Scion of the Ikshvaku – A review

Scion of Ikshvaku
Amish Tripathi

Scion of the Ikshvaku

Before I begin here’s a Disclaimer:

I have been brought up listening to the stories of the Ramayana. I am fairly familiar with it – the twists and turns, the stories within stories, the blacks and whites and greys of its characters, their intentions and motivations. I have seen every episode of Ramananda Sagar’s Ramayan on the telly. To make matters complicated, I have recently read a few re-tellings even while stray dohas of the original (for me) Ramcharitmanas echo in my head. I cannot but compare. Unfortunate as it may be, I cannot offer an unbiased review of Amish’s Ram Chandra series. There.. you have been warned.

The story:

(You can skip down to the review directly if you are familiar with the narrative)

The story opens as Raavan is flying away in his Pushpak Viman with Sita. Told in flashback, it traces the birth of Ram, born on the day that the unconquerable Dashrath, suffers a humiliating defeat at the hands of Raavan, the then head of trade security forces of Lanka. He thus comes to be known as the ‘inauspicious’ one and is shunned by Dashrath, the Ayodhyan nobility as well as the people.

A depressed and disheartened Dashrath lets the Sapt Sindhu deteriorate into an impoverished nation while Raavan, now the king of Lanka, prospers through extensive trade. When Ram is 6, he and the other three princes are taken away by Guru Vashishta to be taught their princely duties as also to shield them from palace intrigue and power play. Even as toddlers, Sumitra impresses upon Lakshman the need to look out for Ram while counselling Shatrughan to stay by Bharat.

The princes grow up at Guru Vashisht’s ashram with very distinct personalities:
Prince Ram, simple, unassuming, spartan. The stoic. Meticulous follower of laws, the one woman man looking for a soulmate – a woman he can respect.
Prince Bharat, the advocate of freedom, the flamboyant Casanova, a ‘girlfriend’ always by his side.
Prince Lakshman, Ram’s shadow, the one who has taken upon himself the task of being Ram’s protector. Lover of food, the one with the brawn.
Prince Shatrughan the brainy bookworm, the one who always has an answer to Guru Vashishta’s questions.

Back home, after they finish their education, Dashrath withholds from Ram the title of crown Prince till one day he sees his first born for what he really is and makes him crown prince. Soon after, Guru Vishwamitra seeks out Ram and Lakshman to help him fight the demoness Tadka and her son Subahu. Ram does so, though not quite as Vishwamitra has planned.

On the way back they drop by Mithila. Without his consent and much against his wishes, Vishwamitra pledges his participation in Sita’s swayamwar. Even as a fuming Ram steps out, he bumps into Sita and falls in love. Ram wins Sita’s hand at the swayamwar where Raavan is also a suitor. He (Ram) is drawn into a war with Raavan who attacks Mithila alleging he has been insulted. Events thereafter force Ram into exile along with Sita and Lakshman.

During their exile they meet and play host to Raavan’s estranged step-siblings Vibhishan and Shurpanakha. An accident sees Shurpanakha’s nose being cut off followed by Sita’s abduction by Raavan.

The review

What I loved

I loved the way the characters are etched. I loved Amish’s Ram but it is his warrior Sita who is by far my favourite. She is the Prime Minister of Mithila, far removed from Tulsidas’ demure girl stealing coy looks at Ram. It is Ram who spies this Sita, single-handedly fighting off a mob. It is he who is smitten while she remains business like. If I had a complaint, it would be that I didn’t get to see her gentler, perhaps more romantic side. But I’m not complaining.

I loved the way Ayodhya and then Mithila come alive in amazing architectural detail.

I loved how Amish makes this ancient story mirror today’s society. I found myself drawing parallels and trying to figure out whether it was closer to the Asura version of governance or the Deva version. He makes a case for both through his characters.

Most of all I loved the war of philosophies. What is a good ruler? Does he have to be a good person? Should laws be absolute? What is a good society? Is there one perfect way to govern a society?
Sample this argument between Ram and Bharat:
Ram: ‘We need a great leader one who will lead by example. A leader who will inspire his people to discover their godhood within! We don’t need a leader who will leave his people free to do whatever they desire.’
Bharat. ‘We need a king who can create systems with which one can harness even selfish human nature for the betterment of society!’

Food for thought, huh?

What I didn’t like:

I sorely missed the drama, the drama that the Ramcharitmanas abounded in. I missed the drama of Kakeyi’s kopbhawan, which was almost superfluous to the plot here. And Manthara.. she was barely there. I missed the drama of these two powerful dark characters. Nope I don’t want blacks and whites, keep them grey by all means but making them powerless and irrelevant? Not done.
I missed the drama of Sita’s swayamwar, of the invincibility of Shiva’s bow (Ravan picks it up and shoots it even before the Swayamwar officially commences), of Parashuram’s tantrum.
I missed the drama of Ram’s heartrending departure from Ayodhya, the terror of the dreaded Dandakvan and lastly the drama of Shurpanakha. (This last bit was wrapped up in fifty odd pages.)

Blame it on Tulsidas or Ramanand Sagar.

Lastly, I disliked the bits of detailed gory descriptions. Perhaps it was required for the story but I have no stomach for it.

That said, there are enough unanswered questions to make me look forward to the sequel. Hurry up and bring it on.

PS: The autographed copy from Amazon and this bookmark were an absolute delight. (The bookmark reads RAM in an ancient Indus Valley Script according to Amish’s unofficial interpretation).

scion of the ikshvaku collage

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24 thoughts on “Scion of the Ikshvaku – A review

  1. Shailaja/ The Moving Quill

    WOW,what a review, Tulika 🙂 I am slowly getting used to reading reworked Mythological tales, but was a tad disappointed by Ajaya and Asura. Couldn’t finish either of them, unfortunately. I think i agree with you in that the thing I love about the Ramayana is that drama- with kaikeyi and manthara. I know many people dismiss Rama as being too holy for his own good, but there are stories that dissect the personality and his dilemmas so effortlessly. I am trying to recall the stories and cannot now. Love that bookmark! Beautiful ❤

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    1. Beat About the Book

      The drama is definitely an inherent part of the story but I enjoyed Amish’s philosophical touch too. It makes for interesting reading and perhaps someone who isn’t familiar with the original story might appreciate the book more.

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  2. Indywrites

    I loved your review for the book, i had thoroughly enjoyed the Shiva Trilogy and was waiting for his new book. But, yes a big but as I will not be reading this series. I am not too much into mythology and not a fan of Ramayana or Mahabharata. I feel they have been done a hundred times over. Glad I read your review, it has all the elements that I needed to know about the book. No more mystery and one book off my TBR.
    Thanks Tulika. Congratulations on this blog about book reviews, I did not know you did book reviews.

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    1. Beat About the Book

      Thanks Indywrites. Sometimes one can enjoy a much read story too provided it offers something new and is well written. This is most definitely well written and does have something to offer – it’s just that it fell a little short after the Shiva Trilogy.

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  3. Shilpa Garg

    There is so much of buzz around Amish’s new book. Your review has piqued my interest and I am so looking forward to read this book now 🙂

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  4. Lata Sunil

    Thanks for this review. I was afraid, the over publicity may pull down the book. But this one sounds real interesting.

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  5. magiceye

    Excellent review!! Have just finished the 2nd of his Trilogy.
    But I think after reading your review, shall pick this one up 🙂
    Thank you!

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  6. Kaddu

    Sounds interesting, though I don’t have much stomach for Ramayan. Will see if I have the time to read this one.

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  7. Aparna George

    “Blame it on Tulsidas or Ramanand Sagar” – this line gives me an immediate recognition that I’ll feel similarly on a lot of the stuff you have said. I’m a sucker for alternate retellings of mythology though, so will probably give it a try at some point anyway :).

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      Me too Aparna. It started with ‘Palace of Illusions’ and over the last year or so I’ve read many of them. Most have elements that I didn’t like but I completely enjoy the different perspectives.

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  8. Uma

    I loved the Shiva Trilogy, so was looking forward to Ikshvaku. I cannot say I like all re-tellings of mythology, case in instance being-The Ausra. As you said stories like the Ramayana and Mahabharata have had a lot of influence on us and a lot of deviation may not go down well with the audience. Your review tells me somehow that I might like this. The first thing that caught my attention is your allusion to the portrayal of Sita as a warrior princesses and Rama falling in love- similar to Shiva’s Sati, no?
    I might get hold of a copy. Lovely, review, Tulika!

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    1. Beat About the Book

      Yes, she did remind me a bit of Sati but she has a much smaller part here. The Shiva Trilogy worked perfectly for me because I had barely any idea about that bit of mythology so I loved all of what he wrote. Actually retelling something like the Ramayan is tough – say the same thing and you have a dud, deviate too much and the story loses its essence.

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  9. nabanita

    There’s so much noise around the book that I have decided to wait till it settles before reading it…Plus I’m kind of inclined towards murders and thriller than the genre Amish writes in…Thanks for such a comprehensive review Tulika…and looking forward to more on the blog 🙂

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      Oh if you don’t like retellings of mythology this one is definitely not for you. As for the hype – I quite enjoy it. The pre-release interviews and the trailers, all of it. I love the excitement.

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  10. shanayatales

    Like you, I have read and re-read several versions and re-tellings of both the epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata. So this one is right up my alley. But as of now, I am trying to finish the Shiva Triology (I know- I might be the very last one left 😛 ). Once that is done, I am headed this way. 😀

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    1. Beat About The Book Post author

      That’s quite alright Shantala. The only thing is you might find this one a bit tame after the Shiva Trilogy which was by far a better read. That’s my opinion of course. Will wait for your review.

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  11. parulthakur24

    Great review there!. I have also read, heard and understood the logics behind behaviors of the characters of both Mahabharata and Ramayan. I am impressed that you have already read this one. I liked Shubha Vilas version too. It was dramatic and I enjoyed that one book I read. I have read Shiva Trilogy and I like the way Amish lays out the plot and people. Will try and grab this one too when my current reading shelf is empty 🙂

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  12. the little princess

    It wasn’t biased at all Tulika! And this was one review I was waiting for before picking the book. You made it sound like a good pick, so I’ll be trusting your review on this one..:)

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