I loved Oswald Pereira’s debut novel, “The Newsroom Mafia”. So when the writer asked me review his next book, I jumped to the occasion! Revenge of the Naked Princess caught my attention by its power in the title and knowing little about the plot of the book I expected the unexpected.
The book blurb says:
“On a hot, humid morning in May 1545, a joint conversion brigade of the Portuguese King and the Pope set out to spread Christ’s message of love and compassion, but they leave behind a deathly trail of murder and mayhem. Armed with a monstrous cannon and scores of firearms, the brigade raids Princess Darshana Kamya Kathodi’s palace in Tana, carrying for her and her people the King’s inviolable conversion order … sealed by the Pope’s promise of a new heaven. The beautiful, 18-year-old tribal princess fights back with her ace archers’ poison arrows.
Revenge of the Naked Princess shows how brutal, forced conversions can blur the line between religion and carnage. This historical page-turner by veteran journalist-turned-novelist Oswald Pereira comes after the success of his widely-acclaimed, best-selling thriller The Newsroom Mafia.”
History lessons in India have largely been about imperial dynasties, British rule and freedom struggle. The Portugese lineage in India today stands as a much venerated holiday destination, but seldom has its history come out from the folds of antiquity to haunt us! Yes, I use the word ‘haunt’ for a good purpose because Mr Pereira’s book warrants that.
The title of the book is,well, revealing. It is the story of Princess Darshana Kamya Kathodi who dies a brutal death at the hands of Portugese soldiers led by the nefarious Brigadier Braganca. Raped, humiliated and forced to submission, the brave young princess puts up a brave fight for her people. Her’s is a death that is mourned by the lions in the jungle. Her’s is a death that enrages her people. Her’s a death that the Portugese wear as a badge on their shoulder and her’s is a death that they would not forget forever.
Revenge of the Naked Princess for the first time ever, tells the sordid tales of forced conversions by the Portugese. To me the sordid descriptions of bestiality, cruelty and torture was repetitive. But then, perhaps, such was the pattern. The descriptions are brutal, graphic and enough to give you goosebumps. If not anything else, Pereira makes one have a natural hatred for all those crimes that people indulge in in the name of God! At least to me, this is the effect that the book had.
The use of supernatural elements give and unusual twist to the story. But the twist is not unexpected, because the heroine of the book, Princess Darshana Kamya Kathodi dies in the first line of the first chapter! The appearance of a ghost is pretty obvious. What is unusual is the way the spirit of the ‘naked princess’ takes her revenge. The Gods send the princess down from ‘cloud 1777333999’ to avenge her death. They lay her conditions, set her deadlines and watch her from above. The spirit of the princess joins hands with her siblings (who have grown since she died) and unleashes a joint effort.
The characters are surreal. And because I have no reference point for the actions in the book I take Pereira’s word for it. I empathise with the princess and feel the pricks that her people are subjected to. Brigadier Brangaca comes across the shrewd, bestial character that he is and I only feel hatred for him. Bishop Fransisco seems like the man caught in the wrong job, who loses his own heart in the quest for forced conversions. The one character who adds colour is Govind Laxman Prabhu converted to Joseph Lawrence Pereira. The high caste Brahmin turned Catholic is both funny, in the way the Portugese, especially Braganca treat him, and tragic with his own shortfalls as a character.
Pereira in his acknowledgment a tells us that the book is derived from a fable that his grandmother used to tell him as a child. And there lies the crux of the story. Pereira tells us that his grandmother spoke a ‘beautiful, naked princess who would come riding by on a golden, wheel-less chariot steered by a lion and lioness, at the stroke of midnight each day, in our village in Thane.’ Pereira, all of 6 lapped up the story with rapt attention. He tells us that his grandmother told him that the naked princess would come down to take revenge for the bad things that bad people did to her and her people. At this juncture, the story stops being just another fable. It makes me wonder if the story then is part of oral tradition. While the forced conversions may have been as brutal and barbaric a described in Pereira’s book…I wonder if the spirit of the naked princess did return to avenge her death and dishonour.
Did I enjoy it? To be honest, not as much as I enjoyed the author’s first book. Go for Revenge of The Naked Princessif you like a supernatural thriller. The bloodbath is repetitive and predictable. And after a point I wanted to skip it and head towards the revenge. Pereira has however, broken the mould. As a reader I expected and hoped for more stories to be dug out of his career as a journalist, but a slice of history and supernaturalism will not disappoint you all together.
Thank you Oswald, for asking me to review your book. A special thanks to Leadstart Publishing for sending me a review copy.