Saturday, May 27, 2023



The Pledge: Adventures to Sada, co – written by Madhulika Liddle and Kannan Iyer, has lofty ambitions as it strives mightily to create an epic fantasy of Tolkienesque grandeur. The land of Mandala where this saga unfolds is a troubled one, with the empire having been split in two and the people being forced to weather the gale winds of hate, intolerance, and greed. In the midst of the tumult where everyone is suspicious about the activities of everyone else and people languish in prisons for no discernible reason, Jaadum, an aged prisoner and former magician who is also a chronic do – Gooder makes known his dying wish and sets in motion, the rickety plot.

Raibhu, the magician’s son, Afhash, his childhood buddy and Inosa, whose personal history is closely related to Jaadum’s secret activities for the greater good, find themselves facing down the forces of evil, led by the warlord, Umur Naash. This material calls for swashbuckling characters, rollicking pace and rip – roaring adventure. But all these requisite elements are sorely missing.

The characters are unbearably bland. Raibhu is noble, angst – ridden and supposedly talented but mostly he is commendably kind while also coming across as clueless and lacking in smarts. Some of his actions put the innocent in grave danger which makes it hard to root for him or his companions. Afhash is supposed to be the funny sidekick with a tortuous past, but this bromance is never convincing. Inosa is one of those jaw – droppingly gorgeous, tough yet tender women, favored by most novelists whose spectacular looks can be used to spark tantalizing romance as well as treachery. Umur Naash as the soulless, merciless ‘evil incarnate’, mass - murderer villain is straight out of a particularly bad Bollywood movie. Naturally, he has an eye for beauty and commits fully to destroying any semblance of it.

The plot plods along as the authors expend a lot of effort and words on world building. Some of the descriptive passages are not entirely lacking in charm. The co – authors explore the theme of religious intolerance and the people of Mandala occasionally find themselves at loggerheads over their right to worship either the land, sky, or water spirits, and one wonders why they don’t get their period underwear in a twist over the other two elements of nature as well. There are some ideas here that are intriguing, but the premise does not hold up thanks to the lackadaisical pace, clunky writing, and stilted dialogue. For people who have a monstrous war lord and his minions breathing down their necks, the protagonists follow a lumbering path through the wildlands, stopping once too often to eat, rest and tend to the superficial wounds inflicted on each of them at various points, when they can ill afford to.

There is a contrived twist in the epilogue which appears to have been hastily tacked on to whet the reader’s appetite for the inevitable sequel. This flight of fantasy is headed for a crash landing.

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