I came across Upon a Burning Throne in 2019 when discovering this epic tale inspired from the ancient Indian classic The Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is one of two Sanskrit epics an ancient India and it describes the struggle between two kingdoms for power and the right to rule. Ashok K. Banker took the inspiration from this Indian epic and transformed it into a tale for the fantasy genre. Many of the factors present in this story are: philosophy, magic, gods, demons, love, betrayals and so much more. I can definably say that I have not read another epic like this and it is sure to inspire authors to right tales like this. A few things to note before I get into my review. I have not read the original text of The Mahabharata and my comments are only a reflection of the fictional novel Upon a Burning Throne. I also listened to the audio book so my reaction to the story may be different from other readers.
This novel starts with the Emperor of the Burning Throne being declared dead and a new heir must be chosen for succession. Two Princes Adri and Shvate are next in line by birthright but blood line along doesn’t guarantee the right to rule. The next successor must sit upon the legendary burning throne to withstand the Test of Fire and it must also be said that these two Princes don’t exactly look the part of royalty. One of the Princes is blind by birth and the other is an albino and these people are usually exiled. The whole country is surprised when not one but both of the brothers pass the trials and will co-rule together, but that is not the end of the story. A third child, a girl from a distant kingdom with the birthright to sit on the Burning Throne. She passes the test but is denied the right to rule and her father Jarsun declares war on the Burnt Empire bringing the land to chaos and collapse. Welcome to the Burnt Empire!
Now that I have laid the groundwork for the novel, let me talk about how the story is structured. The plot and storytelling is not just one linear tale about the two brother fighting a war, but several multilayered stories weaving into a complex tale. The best way for me to describe is if anyone has read the ancient Greek epics such as the Iliad or Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These contain several fable type stories but woven in the same world and what Banker is able to do with these several tales and compact them into one book is astonishing. My favorite stories involve the brothers especially as they grow up. Adri is blind and has to learn the ways of the court and become a stellar mind for advantage in the war while Shvate has albino skin and is sensitive to light but must prove himself on the battlefield as a warrior. The lore and history of this world are rich and luscious if you are a worldbuilding type of reader and the stunning twists will leave you wanting more!
Now, with all of this being said there are a few shortcomings for this novel. First is that the writing style will not appeal to everyone. While the pace is good, the detail and new terms can be overwhelming for readers and slow down the narrative tremendously. The audiobook helps out with this issue, but I want everyone to be made aware of this. Also, remember how I said there is a girl with the right to rule the Burnt Empire? Well apart from the prologue, she is not in the rest of the book at all. Almost 700 pages and we get no other mention of this character! This would have been a big negative had I not already read the sequel and it is entirely devoted to her. Just some information before anyone takes a dive into this series.
If you are looking for something different but Epic, while being challenged and rewarded tenfold by the ending, Upon a Burning Throne is a great place to start. This is not a perfect book, but the bones are there for an Epic tale and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with everyone soon.