Beast: An urban fantasy reminiscent of a folklore


Namrata looks at Krishna Udayasankar’s new novel set in Mumbai in the backdrop of the dark underbelly of the city amidst the world of Saimhas (werelions)

Publisher: Penguin

Released in : March 2019

An urban fantasy set in the mega city of Mumbai, Beast by Krishna Udayasankar reminds you of the folklore of Lord Narsimha and Prahalad. The description of one being ‘Neither a man, nor an animal’, is the common thread between the two.

Krishna Udayasankar is known as the author of The Aryavarta Chronicles long with Immortal, 3 and Objects of Affection. Her books have known to be a fascinating point where myth and science meet. Beast also falls in that category where she talks about Mumbai being attacked by werelions (Saimhas) who have been living alongside human-beings since ancient times. 

The cover of the book is set in greyish blue tones against the backdrop of a lit-up Mumbai skyline with a hazy face of the lion playing hide and seek with the reader. The cover along with the first line of the blurb – When mythical creatures commit a real crime, who gets to be the judge? – adding to the intrigue of a reader.

Interweaving mystery and thriller elements with fantasy and myth, Udayasankar presents a gripping tale of a megapolis being under attack by werelions. The story is exceptionally well narrated by considering various questions that might come to a reader’s mind while reading such a book. It is admirable how Udayasankar has taken some totally unbelievable concepts and presented them with such simplicity, that it manages to convince one to believe in their existence. Her writing is lucid and the language extremely easy to follow which makes Beast an easy read despite the multiple themes and sub-genres it traverses through.

Interestingly when the world was created, homosapiens weren’t the only species to exist in it. Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo heidelbergensis also co-existed till the homosapiens overran them all. So, the possibility of their being a half human- half animal isn’t alien altogether.

Three drug-dealers are found murdered in the city, bringing us to ACP Aditi Kashyap who has been assigned the case to find the killer. The primary evidence suggests that the killer might not be entirely a human, leading us to Enforcer Prithvi Narsimha who assists Kashyap on the case thereon. When one says werelions or for that matter, half-humans the immediate reaction is that of disbelief. And that is where the scene that follows this question in the book is important. Interestingly when the world was created, homosapiens weren’t the only species to exist in it. Neanderthals, Denisovans and Homo heidelbergensis also co-existed till the homosapiens overran them all. So, the possibility of their being a half human- half animal isn’t alien altogether.

Prithvi, as one of the main protagonists is the one who teaches us about the world of werelions. He takes us through this parallel world using his expertise in showing the strength and the weaknesses of the inhabitants. Though on the outside, Beast looks like the eternal quest between the good and the evil, on the inside it is the story of people struggling to make peace with their inner selves. It is as much as about self-discovery as much as it is about overcoming evil.

In this book, each and every character has something to add to the storyline and take it forward. Be it Dr. Bhima Rao, Ranger Gogoi or Chandana, the werelioness, they are strongly defined and stay etched in a reader’s memory long after the book is over. Though one cannot miss asking for more of ACP Aditi Kashyap.

Beast is a nail-biting thriller from start to finish. There is not a single dull moment in the whole book where we are jumping from one crisis to another. The twists and turns in the story hold a reader’s attention till the last word. Udayasankar raises some very important questions through this gut-wrenching story of a werelion pertaining to our current society and its prevalent condition. My favourite is the debate on collective control v/s individual freedom.

Witnessing a drama of this level unfold in a city like Mumbai, even if only on papers, is thrilling to bits and strangely satisfying as till now such genres were always known to be based outside India.  Overall, an impressive amalgamation of emotions, actions,  fantasy, mystery, suspense and thriller with liberal doses of drama and social themes, Beast is a journey that needs to be experienced and not just read.

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Reviewer’s Bio: Namrata is the editor of Kitaab.

She is a lost wanderer who loves travelling the length and breadth of the world. She lives amidst sepia toned walls, fuchsia curtains, fairy lights and shelves full of books. When not buried between the pages of a book, she loves blowing soap bubbles. A published author she enjoys capturing the magic of life in her words and is always in pursuit of a new country and a new story. She can be reached at privytrifles@gmail.com.

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