July 12, 2012
Fun with Zarku
The Deadly Conch
by Mahtab Narsimhan
Readers who enjoyed The Third Eye will be tempted to read the next book in the trilogy, The Silver Anklet. Unfortunately, The Silver Anklet is filled with unlikeable characters who spend most of the book arguing and insulting each other. Tara seems to have learned nothing from her previous run-in with Zarku and it takes her a long time to decide what to do. In short, I found the book excruciating.
It's best to skip The Silver Anklet and go straight to The Deadly Conch. This time, Tara has to deal with Kali's daughter, Layla, who is determined to avenge her mother's death. Since the villagers of Morni are very superstitious and in denial that a nine-year-old is capable of evil, it doesn't take long before Tara is condemned. In desperation, she summons Lord Yama for help in stopping Layla's lies. But it comes with a price - Tara will have to live in the Underworld forever.
The Deadly Conch is better written than The Silver Anklet, but not by much. Even though the story is filled with urgency, the plot still seems to lag. It takes Tara a very long time to really act. She never tries to prove Layla's culpability other than to keep repeating "She's lying!" She's oblivious to the fact that whatever she says (or doesn't say) only makes matters worse. But when Lord Yama tells the villagers that Layla is a liar, they believe him! Of course, who would dare contradict the God of Death?
It's a disappointing ending, especially since Narsimhan's version of the Underworld is actually quite thrilling. Freezing cold, with its denizens attracted by the scent of blood, the book could have been a vampire movie with a Bollywood twist. Now that I'd like to see.