Historical fiction is a genre that requires a lot of research. Everything that you write needs to be tight, and must be appropriate to the time it is set in. Any loophole, be it plot-wise or setting-wise, has the power to pull your narrative down. And if you combine historical fiction with a murder mystery, a lot of work goes into getting everything in place and making sure that there are no loose ends.
Harini Srinivasan’s The Curse of Anuganga is a combination of historical fiction and murder mystery that is set in 403 CE in the city of Nandivardhana. Shaunaka, son of a renowned goldsmith called Vishnuveera, doesn’t have an aptitude for his father’s work. Instead, he wants to widen his horizons and travel to Pataliputra and henceforth to see the world and make a fortune. But two weddings in the city force him to work for his father and on one of these jobs, he finds an obnoxious noble of the city, Vinayashura, murdered in his house.
His observational skills are noticed by the police authorities and he, along with his brother, Ashwini, is enlisted to work as a spy/investigator. Things come to a head when a conspiracy against the royal family is uncovered. Will Shaunaka be able to stop the perpetrators from causing harm to the people in danger or not forms the rest of the story.
The Curse of Anuganga is a simple story that goes from point to point in a rather linear way. It starts off with a man being dragged by two guards on horses and he utters the titular curse. But it doesn’t appear until the very end. Though it is quite an engaging read – I finished it in about 5 hours – it does have problems that one cannot ignore.
The narrative is repetitive in places, with phrases and points important to the story repeated over and over again to the point where it gets a little annoying.
The story, despite being linear, doesn’t have clarity on the investigative milestones that Shaunaka is achieving from point to point. This makes the story feel like an unengaging, discontinuous mass of events in places, making it a sort of a paradox.
We as readers usually ask for details to be delivered to us contextually or through dialogue. But The Curse of Anuganga takes it too far, with even the slightest of atmospheric descriptions being elucidated in dialogues.
The biggest problem with this book is that as it comes to a close, it blindsides you with too much information relatively unrelated what has happened so far in the book. Till you read the last chapter, you have no idea that this is coming, and when you do, there’s almost nothing to show that these are connected. Not to say they aren’t, but the information overload is rather too much, so much that everything that happened in the book so far fades to a tiny dot. It seems convenient, because a lot of things that were repeated in the early stages didn’t even figure in the final explanation.
There aren’t any loose ends, but there’s nothing clever and interesting in the way things unfold – as if every plot point is just there because they connect to each other, with a huge lump of them in the end. There’s no literary wizardry that makes a murder mystery amazing. And that’s a shame, because so much could have been done with a setting such as this.
But I’ll still maintain that this is a book that you can pick up on a lazy day and finish off in one sitting because the story flows so linearly. I wouldn’t staunchly recommend this one, but if you’re in one of those I-want-to-start-and-finish-a-book-ASAP moods, then this is one you can pick up!
Rating: 3/5 stars
Until next time, keep reading and add melodrama to your life. 🙂