Sometimes, we pick up a sequel due to the sheer force and charm of Book 1. And that sequel turns out to be far below the standards set by its prequel. This is exactly what happened when I picked up The Secret of the Nagas without a second thought. I was that impressed by The Immortals of Meluha. As I started reading, I realized that the book was not quite what I expected it to be.
This book is readable, engaging. I may even be charitable enough to call it interesting. But somehow, it falls terribly short of expectations. The first book had a story novel enough to hold my interest. I did not really mind the simple writing style or the absence of metaphors. It was, after all, written in the manner of a thriller. So, it was with great expectations that I bought the second book for the Shiva Trilogy. To be fair to the author, I didn’t really mind reading it. It took me roughly six hours to read. Although I finished it in two sittings, with a dinner break and a phone call in-between, I wouldn’t say I was riveted.
The most glaring problem with The Secret of the Nagas is the characterization. In Book 1, the author had painstakingly built each of the characters in the book. Each character came across as interesting and engaging. In Book 2, the author seems to have taken his characters for granted. There doesn’t seem to be any sort of effort to develop the characters. They seem strangely lacking in depth. I can only think of two reasons for this. Either that Amish has reached the true limit of his literary abilities with The Immortals of Meluha, or that he has become complacent with the success of Book 1 and hasn’t put in that much time and effort into the second.
This lack of depth is especially evident in the author’s portrayal of Ganesh. As a reader who is reasonably well-informed about Hindu mythology, I found the explanation given for Ganesh’s appearance entirely unconvincing. Also, his character seems woefully underdeveloped. There is so much material available on the story and character of Ganesh in Indian mythology that the author could have at least tried to build his character better. On the contrary, there is a certain laziness about the way the book is written that makes it mediocre, albeit engaging and interesting.
Another glaring example of lack of depth is the characterization of Kali as Sati’s twin. With jet black skin vis-à-vis Sati’s golden hue, an untamed mane vs. Sati’s beautiful tresses…every description of Kali seems to scream prejudice. I couldn’t help but notice that almost involuntary association of fair with the good and the beautiful (Sati) and of black with the ugly and the evil. After giving us a rather intriguing sneak into Kali’s character in Book 1, the author fails to build on it and ends up presenting to the reader a vague and sometimes confused portrayal of the Kali. Incidentally, the fact that Kali is worshipped in most parts of India as the destroyer of evil, but in the Secret of the Nagas, this fact seems to have been skipped entirely.
Daksha’s character sees the strangest evolution of all. For someone who swore by the Neelkanth all through Book 1, he seems strangely ambivalent to Shiva in Book 2. So ambivalent in fact, that he doesn’t think twice of storming out after shouting at Shiva on being confronted with the sins of his past. Wouldn’t a true believer in the legend at least be afraid of being cursed? Or apologetic? This turnaround is not too easy to digest.
Finally, the actual Secret of the Nagas is revealed only in the very last page of the book. For a book that is named after that much-feared clan, there doesn’t seem to be much weightage given to the Nagas. Instead, the book dwells extensively on the Chandravanshis and the Suryavanshis and every other conceivable people in the country. Also, as a South Indian, I had serious problems with the reference to SangamTamil as a country. For any South Indian, it is fairly evident that the very appellation is wrong. Sanga Tamil refers to the language and not a territory. Will Amish please take note that his readers extend to the South of the Vindhyas as well and try to avoid such basic errors?
In one line: Although The Secret of the Nagas is an engaging and entertaining book, it falls terribly short of the expectations built by The Immortals of Meluha. If the author wants his third book to remain on people’s must-read list and on the bookstores’ best-selling lists, he better get his act together and read his manuscript properly before sending it off to the press the next time!