Sunday, July 17, 2016

Review: The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

Nilanjana Roy
Title: The Hundred Names of Darkness (The Wildings #2)
Pages: 313
Published: 2013 by Aleph Book Company
Find it at: Amazon / Flipkart
My Rating: 4.5/5!

Book Blurb 
Nilanjana Roy takes us back to the Delhi neighbourhood of Nizamuddin and its unforgettable cats - Mara, Southpaw, Katar, Hulo and Beraal. As they recover slowly from their terrible battle with the feral cats, they find their beloved locality changing around them. Winter brings an army of predators - humans, vicious dogs, snakes, bandicoots along with the cold and a scarcity of food. Unless Mara can help them find a safe haven, their small band will be wiped out forever. With the assistance of a motley group of friends--Doginder, a friendly stray; Hatch, a cheel who is afraid of the sky; Thomas Mor, an affable peacock; Jethro Tail, the mouse who roared; and the legendary Senders of Delhi - Mara and her band set out on an epic journey to find a place where they can live free from danger.

My Thoughts
I'd read the wonderful the Wildings (click link to read review) some years ago. I've had this copy for quite some time (an author-signed copy I got at the launch!) but hadn't got around to reading it till now. I was just as enchanted with the author's writing as I had been with the Wildings. It's simply engaging, lyrical and creative with the ability to pull you into a world run by cats, cheels, rats and others we "Bigfeet" either ignore or mistreat. It's such fun to be reading about the world from the perspective of these creatures. They're as varied as we are, though perhaps not as complicated.

Isn't the cover gorgeous?
The setting is in Nizamuddin, Delhi. In the Hundred Names of Darkness, we follow Mara, the "sender" of Nizamuddin's cats, as she grows and learns. Due to Bigfeet activity, the clan is in danger of being wiped out. It takes Mara a while to realize the level of danger, triggered more so when one of her favourite companions gets lost. Mara realizes the importance of her being a sender and having a responsibility towards her clan. She starts leaving her comfort zone and discovers the world as she never knew it before.

There a bunch of new characters whom I loved. I want to particularly mention Doginder Singh, not only because his name made me glad that I'm not the only one who thinks of such straightforward names, but also because--what a lively, cheerful character! The unique friendship between Mara and Doginder serves to break stereotypes in two ways. One is the parallel metaphor to differences in race and another is Doginder's likes and preferences that represent the breaking-away-from-the-norm by following one's heart. I also liked Hatch's character, a young eagle and son of a super-talented flyer, who stubbornly refuses to fly at all. It's a trying time for Tooth, Hatch's father, to get him up in the sky. Hatch is the embodiment of the hidden feelings of insecurity, lack of knowledge about oneself, and under-confidence. It is so easy to lose faith in someone like that. But sometimes what seems to be at the surface is not what is actually at work on the inside. There could be reasons we don't know about and mostly it could be tackled in a new, surprising way.

Compared with the Wildings, this book was more slow and deliberate. It lingered more on thoughts than action, and it showed places other than the Nizamuddin we knew of from the first book. Gone are some Wildings characters and instead we are introduced to some new ones--both the good and the mean. I felt that the second half of the book was better paced than the first, and there were some parts I wished had been described more when they seemed to get over too quickly or happened in the background.

As for the story, it is doubtless a wonderful tale with hidden meanings and references, narrated in a unique way by the langauge of cats. Artful illustrations at the beginning of each chapter add to the charm. The Hundred Names of Darkness is more 'dark' and sad than the Wildings, especially because we get to see the effect human activity has on nature and wildlife. A particular thing about the ending was just delightful (even though it was predictable)! I recommend this book (this author, this series) if you're interested in good Indian writing.



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