Posts Tagged ‘Nandini Sengupta’

The Ocean’s Own‘ is the third volume of Nandini Sengupta’s Gupta trilogy. I loved the first two parts, ‘The King Within‘ and ‘The Poisoned Heart‘ and was excited when I discovered that the third part was coming out. I just finished reading it.

The Ocean’s Own‘ is not a sequel to the first two parts but is a prequel to the first part. It tells the story of the Gupta emperor Samudragupta, when he was still a prince. The story starts with the newly married Prince Kacha (Samudragupta’s name before he became the emperor) going on his honeymoon with his young wife Datta with their best friend Harisena accompanying them. The young couple are enjoying the first days of their married life together, when they receive news from the palace, which is not good. Soon they are attacked by unknown people in the forest. The subsequent action moves the story fast and we can’t wait to find out what happens next and who these unknown assailants are and as Holmes is fond of saying, what plots are afoot. To find out what happens next, you have to read the book 😊

Historical fiction in English written by Indian writers is typically set in the British colonial era or during the Mughal era. This is probably because many Indian writers feel that these are the eras in Indian history which international readers are interested in and so if they want a book to be widely read, it is better to set the story in these time periods. This is odd, because India has a rich history stretching back to centuries before the Mughal era. The Mughal era started in 1526 CE and the Buddha was born at around 480 BCE (according to one estimate), so that is 2000 years of history out there, for which some kind of evidence is available, even if we ignore the mythical origins of Indian history before the Buddha. But Indian historical fiction writers writing in English have ignored this vast span of time filled with amazing events and have focused only on the past five hundred years. Nandini Sengupta has tried to redress that and has set her trilogy during the Gupta dynasty which was there between the third and fifth century CE. This era was regarded as the golden age of Indian history and culture and it was the time that the great poet and dramatist Kalidasa lived. So Nandini Sengupta has broken new ground here, in terms of Indian historical fiction writing in English, which is inspiring.

The three books in the trilogy focus on three different emperors and this third volume, ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ is about the Emperor Samudragupta. It has all the things that Nandini Sengupta’s fans have come to expect from her books – a wonderful start filled with mystery and intrigue, unknown assassins trying to do bad things, palace intrigue, beautiful friendship, wonderful descriptions of sword fights and battle scenes, passionate romance. And last but not the least, the amazing strong women characters. There are the quiet strong women, like the princess and the empress. And then there is the courtesan, the assassin, the warrior, all amazing women. This book features the Pallava princess and warrior, Angai, who is a fierce warrior like Penthesilea, the Amazon queen who fights Achilles, and who teaches Emperor Samudragupta one or two things about how to fight in a battle, and gives him an education that he never forgets. She is one of the great characters in the story and the trilogy.

I loved ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ and the whole Gupta trilogy. Unfortunately, all good things have to come to an end, and I had a bittersweet feeling when I finished reading this final volume. I can’t wait to find out what Nandini Sengupta comes up with next.

Have you read ‘The Ocean’s Own‘ or other books in the Gupta trilogy? What do you think about them?

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When I discovered that Nandini Sengupta‘s first novel ‘The King Within‘ was coming out and that it was a historical novel set during one of the fascinating times in Indian history, during the era of the Gupta dynasty, I couldn’t wait to read it.


The story told in the book goes like this. Darshini is a courtesan-actress. She is travelling with her escorts to Ujjayni to participate in a music and poetry festival. During their travel, Darshini and her group have to pass through a forest. There they are attacked by a group of tribesmen. Darshini realizes that they are outnumbered. Just when she has given up hope and starts praying to the Buddha, the Enlightened One, a new man enters the scene and engages the robbers in a sword fight. People who come with him also join the fight. Before long half of the robbers are killed and the other half beat a hasty retreat. The newcomer introduces himself as Deva. There is more to him than meets the eye. Deva offers to accompany Darshini and her group to Ujjayni. He also introduces her to his friends. And thus begins a long beautiful tale of friendship between four young people which stretches across time and geography, a friendship which goes through challenges hurled at it by personal relationships and historical events. What happens to these four friends forms the rest of the story.

For a book which is around two hundred pages, ‘The King Within‘ is epic in scope. The story starts at a time towards the end of Samudragupta’s reign and continues through Chandragupta Vikramaditya’s reign till nearly the end. I don’t know how the author managed to pack in so much in a book of this size. I loved the historical characters who came on the stage – Chandragupta Vikramaditya, Dhruvaswamini, Kalidas, Saba Virasena, Fa Hein, Queen Dattadevi, Varaha Mira – they were all complex and beautiful and flawed and real. I don’t know whether Darshini was historical but I loved her very much – to me she was the heroine of the story.

I loved the depiction of the life of that ancient era in the book – the dress people wore, the food they ate, the different kinds of wines, the different types of flowers, what people did for entertainment, the music people listened to, the relationship between Hindus and Buddhists – this was very beautifully written. Clearly the author has done her research very well. I also loved the description of the swordfights in the book – beautiful, elegant, graphic without being gory – it was like watching Gene Kelly dancing around with his sword, thrusting and parrying, in ‘The Three Musketeers‘. I loved Nandini Sengupta’s prose – it flowed smoothly with an elegant touch, page-turning during action scenes and slow and thoughtful in contemplative scenes.

The story is gripping from the first scene and as the book transitions from the everyday happenings in the life of four friends to the larger issues of governance and managing the empire, we move from the particular to the general, from the everyday detail to the bigger picture on a larger timescale, and the whole transition is seamless and brilliant. Reading this book made me want to read more about the history of that period. That, I think, is one of the great achievements of the novel – making the reader want to read more.

I loved ‘The King Within‘. If you like historical novels which are well researched, have cool characters, dashing adventures, cultural interludes and also talk about the bigger picture, you will love this.

I will leave you with some of my favourite lines from the book.

For what was love if not suffering? Was it not the touchstone that transformed the earthy into the ethereal, ecstasy into bliss, giving mere humans a taste of eternity? Why blame destiny when, as the Enlightened One said, ‘There is no path in the sky.’ If her actions were hers, so were the consequences. Darshini felt drawn to Urvashi, more strongly than she was drawn to Shakuntala. Shakuntala was blamelessly poignant while Urvashi was dignified in her tragic flaws – one a girl, the other all woman.

The relentless rains had made way for blue skies and a nip in the air. Winter was on its way and this was Darshini’s favourite time of year. She loved the autumn for its promise of a gentler season, unmarred by the harshness of summer or the bleakness of winter, an in-between time when nature’s bounty seemed so much more magnified. It did not have spring’s riot of colour, but autumn always felt like a time for celebration.

“Sometimes, I wonder if it’s all been worth it after all. You spend a lifetime putting in place relationships and then you turn your back for a moment and they all come undone. And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing at all.”

If dawn is the purity of unspoilt promise, she thought, dusk is the brevity of conclusion.

Have you read ‘The King Within‘? What do you think about it?

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