The truth is, we never want what we get, and we never get what we want
“Karna’s Celestial Armor” is written by Surendra Nath, author of ‘Karna’s Alter Ego’.
I got to know of this book when the author reached out to me to review it. I immediately jumped on this opportunity since I love books that mix Indian mythology with other genres.
Karna’ Celestial Armor is the story of the search for Karna’s Kavacha-Kundala in the 21st century. Karna, in his pitri form, along with the hero, Vasu, are on a quest to get Karna’s adornments together to help the save the world in the age of Kalki. This book is genre defying since it mixes mythology, fantasy, history, action and philosophy. But, if you force me to label it at gunpoint , I would probably call it a thriller set in Indian mythology.
I did not realise that Karna’s Celestial Armor is the second book in a loosely defined series starring Karna and Vasu. Hence, my next stop will be reading the earlier book in this series – Karna’s Alter Ego.
I loved ‘Karna’s Celestial Armor’ and give it a strong recommendation. The seamless mixing of genres and the character development make this book stand out in my mind.
As mentioned earlier, this book convincingly weaves our favorite Indian tales from the Mahabharata and Ramayana with the situation in present day India. Along the way, there is a mix of philosophy, history, action and mystery. In a sense, this is almost like an archetypal Indian movie with something for everyone, with the difference being that almost all parts of the book are great. For me, the philosophy of the book was the greatest takeaway though I am sure other readers will find something different that they love the most. My biggest surprise was towards the end, which made me like this book all the more (see the spoilers section for more details).
Vasu’s character development is that of a classic hero. But, don’t think that this seeming simplicity makes the book boring. On the contrary, the fun is along the journey and this book does not disappoint. Vasu’s growth is great to see and the challenges keep getting tougher the more he progresses. He is tested throughout and the various hardships make him better. I would go as far as saying that this book has one of the best examples of a hero’s journey yet.
The world building is quite decent. Surendra Nath does not have much to do since the story is set either in present day India or is taken from myths and history. But, wherever he has the leeway, he has done a good job at building something magical.
The “Indian-ness” of this book is brilliant too. Many a time, Indian authors mimic Western ones and make their writing indistinguishable from theirs. While that has its place, it is good to see this uniqueness in writing, story telling and character interactions. Almost all the characters were believable as were the situations. They behaved the way you would expect Indians to be behave and talked the way you would expect them to talk. For example – the babu-giri of officialdom and the mix of religions in a nominally ‘Hindu’ book make us feel that we are part of the book’s universe. Saher’s explanation that she knows about Karna, even though she is a muslim, because she has seen the Mahabharata on Television is something we can all understand. Surendra Nath also subtly pokes at our hidden biases about other cultures, religions and attitudes toward other classes.
I do have a few nitpicks about the book though – pacing & editing.
This book, while it has action sequences, is not fast paced. In fact, my least favorite sections of the book are the ones with action since they don’t really have that ‘oomph’. This does not have Shatrujeet Nath’s ‘Vikramaditya Veergatha’s frenetic pace since it is of a different type altogether.
Karna’s Celestial Armor could have used more editing . Some sections could have been trimmed down – the aforementioned action sequences – and the language could have used some cleanup too. Consider this sentence for example –
Did people worship in those days? Whom did they pray? Vishnu, Krishna, Shiva, Devil? What about Allah? Islam was unknown then.
It could have been re-written as “Did people pray in those days? Whom did they worship?”. Also, “Devil” should have been “The Devil”. Unfortunately, many Indian books suffer from poor editing and this needs to be tightened (Yes, I am aware of the irony in my statement). But these two nitpicks are small in the greater scheme of things and Karna’s Celestial Armor has a lot more to offer.
In conclusion, read Karna’s Celestial Armor today. I am eagerly looking forward to next installment in the series.
Other Thoughts (Spoilers warning)
Spoilers below. Continue reading at your peril.
I liked Vasu and I admit I have not read the earlier book. But come on – how can one person be a frogman, ex-olympics contestant, an ex-army officer, shoot like a ninja and have so much composure. But then I suppose, that is why he is Karna’s alter ego. 🙂
Why did Surendra Nath just not call Dr. Abdul Kalam by name?
I liked how the plot weaved across India and felt authentic in each region.
The point around spiritualism and religion was quite poignant in my opinion. Organized religions require us to follow rituals. Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that we have to be good people first.
And now, my favorite part of the book. It ends like one of those Amar Chitra Katha tales featuring Indra. Indra has orchestrated all of the travails that Vasu. I liked this since this book felt like a meta-commentary on Indian mythology at that point i.e. a tale about Indian myth that feels like an Indian myth. I maybe reading too much into it but I choose to believe that this plot point is on purpose.
Also published on Medium.