Award winning author David Hair's Pyre of Queens tells a fantasy tale, rooted in myth and history, Sravasti Datta discovers
The year is 769 A.D. The place Mandore in Rajasthan. Ravindra-Raj, the evil sorcerer-king devises a deadly secret ritual. He and seven of his queens will burn on his funeral pyre, and he will rise again with the powers of Ravana, the demon-king of the epic Ramayana. But things go wrong when one of his queens, the beautiful and spirited Darya, escapes with the help of the court poet, Aram Dhoop .
Cut to 2010. At the site of ancient Mandore, teenagers Vikram, Amanjit, Deepika and Rasita meet. They realise that the deathless king and the ghosts of his brides are hunting them down. They are confronted by vicious forces from the past. “They must unlock truths that have been hidden for a long time and fight an ancient battle…one more time.”
This is the fascinating plot of “Pyre of Queens” (Penguin, Rs. 225) written by award-winning author David Hair. The first of a hugely promising series, “The Return of Ravana”, to have been launched in India, “Pyre of Queens-The Return of Ravana Book 1” is a page turner and reads like a racy thriller. David was inspired by the hand prints of the burned queens of Jodhpur in the Mehrangarh fort. “The fort looks like the strongest thing in the world. You try to imagine scenes and sights as soon as you behold it. India is a very inspiring place as it is a contrast of landscapes, and of the old and the modern.”
David is interested in folklore. “I started reading English folklore and those from New Zealand. I read my way around the world.” The ease with which he talks about Indian history despite being a New Zealander is remarkable. “‘Pyre of Queens' will be followed by a direct sequel in which Prithviraj Chauhan will battle with Mahmud Ghauri. There is a third sequel, which has in it the incident of the Mutiny of 1857. I have done some extensive reading on Indian history.”
David has a degree in History and Classical Studies. About the place of legend and myth in history, David says, “Myths can be deconstructed into stories, history, tales etc. I had written a paper on Greek mythology. One story most of us know is of King Oedipus. Oedipus killed his father and married his mother. This can also be seen as a universal truth in Greek society during those times. When sons grew up they became the enemies of the fathers and the mothers used to support the sons; she played an ambiguous role. Myths and legends most of the time carry a message.”
Let it not be said that “Pyre of Queens” is like any run-of-the mill fantasy novel. “Vampires and dragons are the pervasive images in Western fantasy literature,” says David, “But in my novels I have tried to innovate with different images.” David also considers reincarnation a “global concept”. “Most often, people associate the concept of reincarnation with the East, but that is not really true.”
His first fantasy novel, “The Bone Tiki” set in New Zealand was chosen as the Best First Novel (Young Adult Fiction series) at the 2010 NZ Post Children's Book Awards. Its direct sequel, “Taniwha's Tear” was well-received too.
David has a visual imagination that is evident from the novels he has written. Though writing comes naturally to David, he prefers to mull over the plots of his novels. “At times, I have woken in the middle of the night from sleep and have written down ideas that come to my mind in frenzy for twenty minutes! Besides, I do a lot of research. Most of the time, when I write, it floods off.”
J.R.R. Tolkien's “Lord Of The Rings” has been a book that he has read “every year for nine years”, leaving an indelible impression on his mind. Interestingly, David played an elf in the film.
David has lived in Delhi for four years and is sure to miss it when he leaves in a few days. “Some historical sites in India are beautifully preserved while others aren't. But India has some of the world's most beautiful historical sites. I think they are very well maintained if you take into consideration the limited resources the country has at its disposal.”