This adventure follows the best traditions of a thriller, with satisfactory results.
We need to bring out that checklist. Plot: effectively convoluted. Build up: good. Body count: just the right number of people killed. Red herrings: One or two, and they do the job nicely. Pace: verging on the breathless, as the reader is hurtled between Delhi, parts of Pakistan, Bamiyan in Afghanistan. Hero: just this side of normal but well able to hold his own against some outlandish odds, indeed. Big, ugly villain: right there, a giant with a flattened skull, calling himself the Autokrator; it can’t get better than that, right? Oh, and there’s the faintest suggestion of a romantic angle, too.
The thing is, Aroon Raman has checked all the boxes in the Thriller Prerequisites list. His hero, Chandrasekhar, is a journalist of the old school, a man who digs deep and cross-checks the facts before filing his story. Chandra’s cop friend Inspector Syed Ali Hassan calls him one not-so-fine day to the site of a bizarre murder at the Qutb and, from that point, the two of them pick up the ball and take off at a brisk, bordering on frenetic, pace.
All the usual suspects make an appearance as the story unspools briskly: the ISI, RAW, sinister n-plots (thermonuclear war, no less) designed to strike at the heart of both India and Pakistan, safari-suited double-crossing agents, the oldest conspiracy theory in our part of the subcontinent, an ancient sect preparing for their freedom verily in the shadow of the cavernous niches where the giant Bamiyan Buddhas used to stand, and a history professor to tie up straggling strands for the reader. Even China gets a look in.
The other thing is, Dan Brown casts a boulder-sized shadow over the book, right from its intriguing start. The Shadow Throne never quite manages to get out from under that shadow.
All in all, though, it’s a good geopolitical tale told in competent fashion, though the frequent switchbacks between the first person singular and the third person, at least in the first portion of the book, tends to throw the flow somewhat.
Another uncertain element is the author’s use of descriptive adverbs to signify terror/horror/dread; this in fact, effectively dilutes the terror/horror/dread that is being described. The little capsules of history, though, add spice to the story. The part where Chandra ticks off the Union Cabinet, as also the use of Chilli Guard to take out an enemy agent, were my favourite bits.
Basically, Raman takes all the tried and tested devices and puts them to work. And they work. But the cover picture? Just doesn’t make the cut.