The Sword with The Ruby Hilt is a story set in Kakatiya period when the dynasty was at its peak. It ruled from the region that is around current day Warangal. Set in 13th CE it takes you around the royal town centered around Ekshila. I picked this book up as I have been to Warangal and seen the Kakatiya Temples but have not read much about Kakatiyas. I know Rudrammadevi was ruling when Marco Polo visited this part of the world. So, this book was an intriguing pick.
The story of ‘The Sword With The Ruby Hilt’ starts very dramatically with twin murders in a temple on the day of Shivaratri. The city is mapped searching for the potential offenders and in a way, it is revealed to the reader. You think it is a murder mystery, but it is just a symptom of the problem that would have to be solved. Characters start appearing in the story. The story moves from temple to the palace via the city.
Rudradeva or Rudramma Devi – the ruler’s life is under threat. The state machinery starts working on the mystery of who wants to kill the king. The story moves back and forth in time. It takes you the childhood of the King and how despite being a girl how she was raised as a boy. Her fights with fellow students at the Gurukul and the mysteries hidden there keep your curiosity going.
After a while, you are lost in the maze of plots and subplots. It seems more than one person is working on killing the king, which is normal as kings do have multiple enemies. Is this the old rivalry, a problem with king’s policies or inheritance that would kill the king? The story raises the question but the answer is elusive until the end. The end is so abrupt that I wondered why it is just left as if a chapter is closed. In the Kindle edition that I was reading, there is no mention of the sequel, although it looks like there may be a sequel in the pipeline. Even if there is a sequel, an individual book should have a logical ending that is complete in itself.
The story starts brilliantly. You are turning pages to know more. Then the characters start walking in and you get lost in them. Almost until the end of the book, characters keep walking in and I was lost in the names. At times, I had to close the book and recall who was who. This was distracting. Another distraction was repeated long descriptions of what the characters are wearing. I think describing it once and then only mentioning the change would have sufficed.
What I liked about ‘The Sword With The Ruby Hilt’ is the author’s ability to recreate the Kakatiya kingdom. Her research is impeccable and so is her description of the places and events. Her description of spy systems and secret pathways make the place come alive. And her storytelling is also very interesting. She has brought in many angles of the 13th CE like Jain monks who love not too far from the palace. The Lenka or the personal guards of the kind have a character of their own. All kinds of professionals play a role in the story, be it courtesans, perfumers, performers, healers or priests. You get a sense of the life in the days of Rudramma Devi.
Buy The Sword With The Ruby Hilt by Mrudula Govindaraju from Amazon India.
Overall, it is a good read. I hope there is a sequel to complete the story which is kind of hanging in the air. To my knowledge, ‘The Sword with a Ruby Hilt’ is one of the first historical fictions set in the times of Rudramma Devi. That makes this an important book.
Other interesting historical fictions to read: