Empire by Devi Yesodharan is a historical fiction. According to the author, Empire is an accidental novel. She had no intention of writing it but somehow it happened. The book is based on Chola dynasty. The Cholas were known for their professional navy, and this navy had played a pivotal role in the expansion of their Empire. But, how many people in India know about that? The answer will shock you. Very little has been written about this dynasty and people generally do not know anything about it. In other words, the Chola dynasty is one of the lesser known dynasties of ancient India. This, in a way, is sad as this dynasty was one of the longest ruling dynasties in the history of South India. Therefore, at the beginning of this review itself, we should appreciate the efforts of Devi Yesodharan who brings alive the times of the Cholas through this novel. At the same time, we should keep in mind that this book is a piece of fiction and not a history book dealing with Chola dynasty.
The book takes the readers into an era when Chola power was at its peak. It was a period when the great port of Nagapattinam stayed awake through the night. It was a place where traders across the seas lived for months, selling their goods and waiting for ships to arrive. The book revolves around Aremis, a Greek female prisoner of war. Surrendered at the delicate age of 12 years, Aremis is trained to become a skilled fighter, and finally included in the king’s guard. The story has been told in her voice. However, she is not the only voice in this novel. The other voice belongs to Anantha, a great warrior, and commander of Chola armies. In fact, Anantha is the man who took Aremis captive and had her trained. These two voices tell us about an interesting battle that lies ahead.
The characters of both Aremis and Anantha have been sketched with due care. The struggle by Aremis to accept new land and new modes of living has been presented both subtly and delicately. In this novel, the author has tried to capture the life during the Chola period as minutely as possible. There are descriptions of markets, streets, food, and music. You can feel the hustle and bustle of markets, and also feel the aroma and the texture of the food described in the book. Place names are comprehensively mapped and you will never feel lost in these places.
Since the book under review is a historical fiction, the pace of the storyline is slow as expected. At a number of times, however, the pace becomes too slow. The story, at moments like these, progresses at a very slow speed. This slowness may certainly put off certain readers. The ending seems rushed and could have been handled in a better manner. The war scenes could have been more action-packed. The book has a good storyline but it has loose ends too. These ends could have tightened. I loved the cover of the book. It is both attractive and interesting.
Overall, the book under review is a nice book to spend time with.