a review by Steve Cameron
Akbar was a rich and powerful Asian leader, a contemporary of Elizabeth I, and ruler of a sixth of the world’s population: Akbar is the Ruler of the World. Illiterate, and yet seemingly compassionate while being paradoxically utterly ruthless, he extended his empire through careful planning, tolerance and acceptance, and intelligent political, military and philosophical strategies. His first wife, from a politically arranged marriage, remained hostile to him. Treachery lurked close, among friends, advisors and even family. And, when he has sons, the plotting and scheming flows down to their generation.
Salim, his eldest son, yearns for attention, respect and recognition from his father, a man with whom he is not particularly close. And as he attempts to make his own way in the world, competing with others to earn the right to be named heir to the throne, he must discern the truth about his father. His mother is obviously biased against her husband, but he soon starts to see and hear the opposite from others around him. Who is he to trust?
This is apparently the third in a series of five historical novels covering six emperors of the Moghul dynasty. Alex Rutherford (the nom de plume of a husband and wife team) is obviously well versed in Indian history and has deeply researched the time period these stories are set. As a non-reader of this type of fiction, I was initially concerned by the three-page ‘cast of characters’ that opened the book. But I found that I didn’t need to pay any attention to this list as I read the story.
The novel covers around fifty years, which means there are regular large leaps in time. Sometimes months, sometimes years. I found this not only broke the flow of otherwise crisp writing, but also meant the characters didn’t have the chance to develop anywhere near as fully as they should have. The occasional need for characters to define terms in English after using the word in a local dialect (I presume Hindustani) became a little frustrating also as this made the dialogue appear forced and unrealistic.
Around halfway through the focus of the story shifts from the father to the son. I would have preferred if the writer(s), like they did in the other books in the series, had simply chosen one character as its protagonist.
Empire of the Moghul is certainly a well-written book, historically interesting, and has fine political schemings and bloody battle sequences. A book I enjoyed, and recommended for fans of historical fiction.
Previously published in Dark Matter issue 5, September 2011. This blog has been pre-dated to reflect the date of original publication.