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10 April 2008

A New Brotherhood

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Roaring Book Press
329 pages

The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming, the exciting sequel to The Conch Bearer, is a wonderful mix of mystery and fantasy. Blending magic, reality and suspense well takes some effort, and the successful end-result is very entertaining.

At the end of the first book, Anand has chosen to stay in the magically hidden Silver Valley in the Himalayas, and be initiated into the Brotherhood of Healers. Young as he is, he is the only person in the history of the Brotherhood, who has the ability to talk to the Conch, and hear its replies. He is therefore chosen to be the Keeper of the Conch. The conch, a tiny shell that can fit into the palm of his hand, is nevertheless an object of immense power.

As he learns how to become a healer, he struggles with his craft, unlike Nisha, his friend and companion on the earlier adventure, and fights off feelings of inadequacy and doubt.

When he finally 'sees' a vision that is a call for help, and Master Abhayadutta, his mentor, sets off to the rescue, he is hurt the latter’s decision to leave him behind. Another vision of his teacher in danger is enough to make him convince the conch to create a portal through which he can set off to help his mentor. Nisha joins him, but as they step through the portal, he loses contact with Nisha and the conch.

Now, he is in a village in present day India and he still does not know where his master is. The wise woman of the village pleads for help in freeing the village from the clutches of a sorcerer and his master, a jinn, who sucks the spirits of the villagers. The sorcerer is in search of a magical mirror, the mastery of which will help him succeed in going back to rule the kingdom from where he was banished.

Anand sets off into the forest in a bid to defeat the evil forces at work in the village, and save his master at the same time. The quest leads him, one step ahead of the sorcerer, to the mirror. A mind message from the missing conch helps him escape from the sorcerer. Only his escape route has taken him many hundred years into the past. The good news is that the three protagonists are united in Mughal times. The bad news? Abhayadutta has lost his powers, and Nisha, her memory. To make matters worse, the conch is still missing and the mirror is shattered.

Disguised as a punkhawalla in the Nawab’s palace, he soon learns that sorcerer is planning the downfall of the royal family, with the help of the jinn. To save them, and his friends and himself, he needs to find the conch.

The narrative is well rooted in the culture and ethos of India and is replete with all the elements that go to build a great fantasy. Magical objects, spoiled princes, evil sorcerers, powerful jinns, all vie with one another without overpowering the story. The author weaves a masterful description of the royal court, as she describes not only its customs, but also the finery and the endless courses of food. I only wish she had realised that female Asian elephants do not have tusks.

On one level, this is an adventure made more exciting by magic. On another, it tells of age-old values, friendship, courage, humility, honour, of striving to triumph over adversity. It is to the author’s credit that she does so without preaching.

Fans of the first book in this series, The Conch Bearer, will be enchanted to follow the characters through to their adventure in the second instalment. Those readers, who like me, have not read the first book yet, will not be disappointed either. The Mirror of Fire and Dreaming can stand alone as a book worth reading. For those who are curious about what happened before, there is enough plot recapitulation of The Conch Bearer in this book to let you know the background of the protagonists and the magic power of the conch. While the series is targeted at children between the ages of twelve and sixteen, it is written well enough for adults to enjoy it as well. If possible, try to read The Conch Bearer before you get to the sequel. I can guarantee that you are going to want to read it anyway.

Copyright: Anuradha Warrier
www.domain-b.com 2008

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