Ranjit Moore asked me to read his novel "Underworld King". It's an epic starring a demon king from Hinduism and his struggles with other rulers of this universe. I will examine plot, characters and polish before assigning a grade.
There are several plot threads here but everything starts with Shukracharya telling Drumila that naaga (serpent monsters) are about to invade his kingdom. Because internal politics make the kingdom indefensible, Shukracharya tells Drumila to move himself and his loyal subjects to the surface and establish a new kingdom.
I like this part. Moving everyone is a complicated process of logistics, even for these omni-potent god-like characters. There's good detail here. It's also an interesting prospective on this type of premise. Other stories would have the king rally a group of warrior friends and stomp on the monsters 300 style. This is more politically nuanced; I have to say it's less exciting than the action-adventure route and so it won't hold the attention of adrenaline junkies. It was hard for me to get through the first few chapters. I find it better to read for the world building and political stuff than for the action itself because there is little at this stage.
Another plot thread is Shukracharya's attempts to breach the dimensional wall protecting the highest level of Heaven so Drumila can invade it. Because Drumila is invulnerable to divine weapons, the gods have to weaken him first, and to do this, they send a goddess disguised as a human to tire him out with excessive lovemaking.
I like this part and again it’s because the execution is unusual for this premise. In another story, this would be an excuse plot for a romance novel. The fighting would be in the background and the seduction would be the main plot. Here, it doesn't come up for fifty or so pages and is only prominent for a couple chapters. There's no smut or titillation. It is an important but minor plot thread in this tapestry.
I also like it for the perspective. It sounds like an audience surrogate set up that I've seen in a number of anime and other stories, but the angle is different. The audience is told the divine story upfront so there's no big reveal later and audience identification. Also, it’s funny. While Drumila and Shukracharya are talking over this supposedly human girl in a language she supposedly doesn't undestand about topics that she supposedly doesn't know about, she is pretending to be scared and silently snarking at them while thinking about how she's going to screw them over.
I have two complaints with this plot thread. I don't understand why the gods are focusing on Drumila, who is not interested in invasion and 99% invulnerable instead of Shukracharya, who is the one working on the ability to breach their defenses. My second problem has to do with Arundhati's love for Drumila. She claims he has a good heart, and he does, but I don't understand how she got that impression. As a devi, she first saw him slaughtering gods. As human, her first impression is sexual assault and then she spends several days having sex with him. Now, if she saw him in action outside the bedroom, I would understand, but she doesn't.
Overall the plot is good. There's a sound progression of events and the initial conflict is resolved. That is, the issue of the naaga invasion and Drumila’s new kingdom is settled. However, the end is not as neat as I prefer. It ends so swiftly after the climax that it’s like clipping the tail feathers off a bird with a kitchen knife.
There's a lot of grey in this cast. It's ogre demons vs snake demons vs gods but it plays out like three human nations going at it than celestial beings. Indeed, neither are more immune to things like sexual lust than humans despite their claims of superiority.
There is a wide cast of named characters here and most of them are made into individuals. I can recognize them by name but I cannot spell their names without looking them up; Asian Indian names and all. Below are three of them.
Drumila, the Underworld King in question, is a good protagonist. He is because one can see his desire to be a good king and look after his subjects. He has the unenviable task of trying to ensure a functional society made up of nether creatures ruled by tamas, or in the language of Tvtropes, they’re Always Chaotic Evil.
Shukracharya is Drumila's spiritual advisor. He's a demon but he's also an enlightened sage. He has fantastic powers ranging from teleportation to self-replication to reviving the dead. He's also wise and mystical. Thinking about him in retrospect, he's like the Hindu version of Saurman. (but not as cool.)
Arundhati could have easily been a Mary Sue; daughter of The Creator, immensely powerful, bewitchingly beautiful (even as a human), reincarnated into a wealthy human family, and effortlessly drives the Underworld King to distraction. However, she's not a Mary Sue. She has a small role here. It's an important role, no doubt about that, but it is a small role and a supporting role. Even when she decides act contrary to her father's plan, she can't do it alone and there are consequences to her actions.
No trouble with spelling or grammar but I'm off a mixed opinion of the index. On one hand, I like seeing that extra detail and it works well for world building. This way the author can elaborate on some aspect of Hinduism without bogging down the story and I found many of them interesting. On the other hand, I think it is excessive. The index is ten pages long and most of the entries are more like translations than anything else. For instance, "dhanush" means "bow". It doesn't say anything else, like the kind of bow, and so I find this disruptive.
Trickster Eric Novels gives "The Underworld King" a B
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