The Pyre: The Return of Ravana
Based in Mandore and Jodhpur in Rajasthan, The Pyre is a fantasy novel that follows two groups of young people, one in the present day where school friends are brought together as strangers through a series of supernatural encounters, to play their part in an ancient battle which began in 769 AD. Their experiences echo another group of young people from the 8th century, who, through past lives, have become intrinsically linked with those in the present. The plot that runs through past and present is that of Ravindra-Raj, the evil Raja of Mandore, who devises a plot to rise from the dead, by burning himself and his seven queens alive on a pyre while conducting a ritual with the aid of Ravana, the demon king of the Ramayana epic. The plan fails when one of the queens escapes the pyre and the ghost of the Raja and his queens continue to pursue those involved in the escape up to the present day.
The Pyre was genuinely dark and unsettling. It is not so much a timeslip novel, rather a story set in two timelines that sometimes collide with or echo each other. The core mythic background of the Indian epic, the Ramayana, has been diligently researched and a brief introduction is presented in the final pages of the book. The story telling within the novel is outstanding, as is the way Hair mixes the fantasy elements with those of the traditional epic, bringing all the characters to life. Being so used to reading fantasies based on western mythology, I found it refreshing to read something based on different cultural traditions.