The Palace Of Assasins follows the story of Ashwatthama post the blood wrenching kurukshetra war. There are many hated and riviled characters in the Mahabharata, but after Dushyasan, Ashwatthama must be the most hated character for the despicable antics he does after the war has officially ended. Therefore it is fascinating to see Iyenger’s take on this.
The book follows an arc of his realisation of the changes in his life and his adaption to it. It opens with Ashwatthama coming to his senses after being “cursed” by Krishna. His curse has left him disfigured, painfully left to lead his life and never get a mukti from the pain and shame. He then stumbles into Kasturi, a woman who lost her entire family to kurukshetra war. She nurses him back to his health without knowing his identity.
Like the Mahabharata was all about the revenge, it is the same emotion which drives Ashwatthama and this book itself. For fulfilling his revenge, he teams with a band of ragged villagers who enlist his help and pledge allegiance to kill the pandavas once and for all and thereby avenge the deaths of their kin. How they go about it all is what the novel is all about.
It is a fascinating read for most parts. I really liked the way they took all elements of an epic adventure replete with mythical monsters and sorcerers. Like Iyenger’s earlier book, Thirteenth Day, the story goes back and forth to give another perspective to the Mahabharata. The characters are well fleshed out and the action set pieces do evoke a sense of thrill in them.
However, the book falters in the bigger picture. I don’t know if this was as a result of wanting to write a fast paced book, but I felt there was more scope for the story to be developed and taken forward. The climax hinges purely on Ashwatthama’s decision for acting in a certain manner. There should have been more meat to Ashwatthama’s reason to behave the way he does which for me would have been a satisfactory ending. Similarly, the Ashwatthama and Kasturi track, again pivotal to the story is not allowed to be etched out completely.
Having said that, it’s really heartening that a book from Ashwatthama’s perspective is being written. The Mahabharata has many such stories and perspectives and it good to see one more added to it. Like it is tough to pinpoint which is the exact reason for the start of the great war, this book serves as a reminder that it’s also tough to pinpoint exactly when does the great war or the revenge for it get over.
While I really wished the book was more meaty, it nevertheless is quite a good read overall.