It took me a whole year to read this book. It only has 303 pages, although my copy is missing pages 213-244, so it should have taken me less time to read it, but I struggled with this one.
On a cool evening in Kolkata, India, beneath a full moon, as the whirling rhythms of traveling musicians fill the night, college professor Alok encounters a mysterious stranger with a bizarre confession and an extraordinary story. Tantalized by the man’s unfinished tale, Alok will do anything to hear its completion. So Alok agrees, at the stranger’s behest, to transcribe a collection of battered notebooks, weathered parchments, and once-living skins.
From these documents spills the chronicle of a race of people at once more than human yet kin to beasts, ruled by instincts and desires blood-deep and ages-old. The tale features a rough wanderer in seventeenth-century Mughal India who finds himself irrevocably drawn to a defiant woman—and destined to be torn asunder by two clashing worlds. With every passing chapter of beauty and brutality, Alok’s interest in the stranger grows and evolves into something darker and more urgent. (Goodreads)
This is a beautifully written story that touches on Indian folklore and includes mythical beasts — werewolves that are sometimes referred to as shapeshifters and djinns. I remember when the book was recently published. There was so much buzz about it and how great it is. It made me want to read it, so I bought a copy and left it unread on my bookshelves, as I usually do. Couple years later, Rachel from Life of a Female Bibliophile and I decided to buddy-read it. That was last year. It didn’t work out.
We both weren’t feeling it. We were uninterested in the plot and bored by the pace. It also wasn’t what either of us expected it to be. I was expecting something exciting and fast-paced and a lot more fantastical than what’s presented. (It felt more like magical realism than fantasy.) So we were both disappointed by the book and decided to buddy-read something else, but there was something about the story that made me want to finish it. Maybe it was Cyrah, who has so much fire in her that she tracks down the monster who raped her to hold him responsible for what he had done, or maybe it was Gévaudan’s nature — the fact that he’s different from his companions and seems more mysterious than them; or maybe it was just that the story is weird and my curiosity kept me tied to it. Whatever the reason was, it made me mark my place and return to the book a full year later when I was more patient with the story. I just picked up where I stopped and kept going.
I slowly sunk into the rhythm of the story’s narration and, at a snail’s pace, my interest in it grew. I didn’t like the story. I guess it disturbed me. It was too gruesome sometimes and nasty, what with how the werewolves transition and mentions of eating other beings. I don’t know why it disturbed me in this story because usually I’m not as affected by such things, being a fan of fantasy and horror and having read and seen a good bit of dark, twisted stories in books and shows. But this one turned me off.
What kept me reading was the prose, which is very evocative and is probably why the gruesomeness turned me off. I could easily imagine the settings and characters: how they look and what they smell and sound like. I was also drawn to Cyrah and the mystery that the protagonist is involved in — basically, who exactly is the dude who keeps giving him manuscripts, which are sometimes presented on cured human skin, to transcribe. As the protagonist, Alok, who’s a professor, transcribes these manuscripts, we learn more of the stranger’s tale and, apparently, his background. It’s a gruesome and, in some parts, beautiful tale. Parts of it surprised me a little, such as how Cyrah and Gévaudan’s relationship develops. But most of it I didn’t care for. I just wanted to know how it all ends.
However, despite how I felt about the story, it is one I would recommend. It’s different in how it presents its werewolves, but the creatures still retain their fascination. I thought it interesting how the trio of European werewolves consider themselves in relation to the human race, and later how Cyrah is considered by other shapeshifters. There is also LGBT representation, and, as I’ve mentioned before, the writing is beautiful. However, if you decide to read a physical copy, check to make sure it has pages 213-244. I had to borrow the e-book from my library to get those parts.
It’s a good story, possibly a great one. It didn’t work for me, but it’s one I would recommend for its presentation of the fantastic and its prose.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
Quotes from the book:
“Continuously, he consumes me.”