A Kingdom Divided

Written by Alex Rutherford
Review by Waheed Rabbani

Although 16th-century primary sources on the second Moghul emperor, Humayun, are available—there is the loving account, Humayunnama, by his half-sister Gulbadan, and biographies by his attendant and others—this historical novel is a fictional treatment of his life, loves and conquests, which is much more palatable than the former manuscripts. It is an independent second volume of a series.

In 1530, the dying Babur, having established the Mughal Empire of Hindustan, passes it to his eldest son, Humayun. Humayun’s half-brothers immediately unite and plot to overthrow him. He manages to pacify them by appealing to brotherly love and awards them provincial governorships. However, they are not entirely satisfied, particularly Kamran. His betrayal of Humayun leads to the temporary downfall of the empire. The ‘son-of-a-horse-trader,’ Sher Shah from Bengal, builds a considerable opposing-force and after winning several battles, ousts Humayun from Hindustan. Humayun, unable to garner support from his brothers, has to flee to seek assistance from the Persian Shah.

While the historical facts are mostly accurate, there are some notable omissions, such as the disinterment of Babur’s body from Agra to Kabul. The author has brilliantly brought the era to life. The evocative landscape descriptions, the gory battle details, and the tender love scenes are a pleasure to read. Recommended.