The mythological/conspiracy thriller appears to be one of the most active thriller sub-genres right now. The DNA is pretty simple: a conspiracy set in modern times with many references to historical events. The success of The Da Vinci Code opened the floodgates and there seems to be no stop to it. It is hard to say whether this is just numerous authors trying to ride the wave or there actually exists a genuine excitement about exploring history in new ways. Perhaps, the magic of The Da Vinci Code cannot be recreated. Dan Brown’s recent books haven’t done a great job of being thrillers, with constant drops in the pace of the narrative and long digressions into lengthy art history lessons. Yet we continue to have more authors exploring the sub-genre. Harappa: Curse of the Blood River by Vineet Bajpai sits comfortably in this sub-genre. The novel does work in a certain way since Vineet ensures that the story moves fast and the pace never drops – an essential trait for any thriller.
Harappa is the story of Vidyut and Vivaswan Pujari – two people separated by three millennia but joined by blood. The story of Vivaswan takes place in 1700 BC (Harappan times in the book) and the story of Vidyut takes place in 2017. Both are described as half-devtas and have all possible great traits to go with that classification. They are great warriors – athletic, highly intelligent, super-skilled in every way. However, an interesting aspect is that the author sets each of their character traits in the respective contexts. Vivaswan has a devoted wife and son and the entire family lives an extremely pious life – reminiscent what we perceive to be the morality of the early Vedic times. Vidyut is living in the 21st century and smokes and drinks – not the traits that we see in Vivaswan. Vivaswan is married and loyal to his wife while Vidyut is in a live-in relationship and for a very brief moment, loses his self-control. It is interesting to see this distinction and is perhaps a reflection of what is considered godly now versus what was considered godly earlier.
Mysterious dark forces have been continuing their efforts to destroy the good since the times of Vivaswan. They are now after Vidyut since he is the direct descendent of Vivaswan. The book is the first in a series and both the stories appear to continue in part two.
The storytelling is split into parallel tracks, with each following the story of our two protagonists in their respective chronological eras. So, the reader is parallelly reading both the stories – one of which is the historical backdrop for the second. This manner of writing works well for the pace of the book since one wants to keep reading to understand the context of the plot better. The other advantage is that when the pace drops in one of the stories, the other one keeps going strong and pulls the reader along. While the story of Vivaswan is about the discovery of treachery, the story of Vidyut is the discovery of his real lineage and secrets of the past. The author does set the context quite well although the plot and characters are relatively less developed in Vidyut’s story as compared to Vivaswan’s. Given that this is first part, one does expect that the next part of the series will fill in the gaps in Vidyut’s story better and answer many of the questions which the readers might have.
Both Vivaswan and Vidyut are described as ideal men with traits and abilities to rival gods. This is quite overdone and repetitive. There are three key women in Vidyut’s life: Damini; a journalist he is dating; Rhea, his secretary and Naina, who is his long lost childhood friend in Varanasi and an accomplished fighter. All three girls are madly in love with Vidyut. As one continues reading, one can’t help but think that the book is written to be made into a movie. Bits like Vidyut’s “Greek God” looks, his intelligence, fighting capabilities, ability to charm women – all point towards a potential Bollywood masala movie.
Harappa does get the basics of being a mythological/conspiracy thriller right. It offers decent sprinkling of historical facts with sufficient twist and is pacy enough for the readers to be engaged. In the past, there have been challenges facing authors when they were penning subsequent books of such series. For example, while the first book of Amish Tripathi’s Shiva trilogy was really pacy and kept the readers at the edge of their seat, the last book in that trilogy was too cumbersome and was bogged down by trying to connect too much of historical references in the story. It digressed so much into justification and explanation of historical references that the flow of the book constantly dropped and one just wanted to get done with it instead of enjoying it. Let’s hope that the next books in this series do not meet the same fate.
Apoorv Vij works on certification of green buildings and is based out of Delhi.