Every Light Cast a Shadow…

A good vs. evil story with an elaborate magic system, set on the background of intriguing political & religious landscape with enough twists and turns to keep you occupied. What else could a fantasy fan want?

Brent Weeks brings the first book of his Lightbringer trilogy “into the light” – The Black PrismHe brought it a while back, I just read it.

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor at Chromeria, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals. It’s been 16 years since the Prism Wars and Gavin Guile who single handedly turned the tide of the war has kept peace with his diplomacy and wits over the seven satrapies.

Things change when the Tyrean head, Garadul, decide to break free from Chromeria, and declare himself the king. In order to make an example and show his power, he burns down the whole city of Rekton within Tyrea (his own kingdom). A 15 year old kid, Kip, is the sole witness to burning of Rekton, who loses all his friends and his mother (who was the only family he knew). Circumstances bring Gavin to Rekton and he meets Kip, whom he saves from Garadul. He also uncovers Garadul’s plot to become the king. And things start rolling from there.

The story works at more ways than one. First there is the elaborate magic system. Personally it took me a while to get the feel for it, but once you understand the magic, it is easy. The magic system is based on the light. Light as energy has seven colors. Each color has a characteristic and particular behavior, and of course light of that color is needed in order to use it. The magicians, called drafters, are known as red, green, blue drafter based on what color they can use in drafting. In the nutshell, it is materializing the light (energy) into physical objects (matter). The Prism (of course) can draft all seven colors (and few others beyond the visible spectrum). If you are intrigued, Check out Brent Weeks site (link below) for candle example he gives.

Another level this story works is the political and religious landscape. Before the Prism Wars, there were many gods (called pagan gods in the book), and the war changed everything. Now there is only one – Orholam. The White and the Prism are the religious heads of the land. Further, they, along with representatives from seven satrapies form the political setup of the land. The great city of Chromeria, is where this seat of power resides. Gavin Guile is considered as the best Prism Chromeria. Garadul on the other hand wants to get out of what he feels as the Chromerian-oppression.

This story has lot of twists and turns and not just here and there. The book reads very smooth considering the complexity of the plot. It flows so well that the reader does not realize how complex the story has gotten. My stomach was twisting as Weeks kept throwing luxen after luxen right till the very end. Last hundred pages had me biting my nails and I was shouting “Come on, don’t throw that in there now, the book is ending”.

The book ends satisfactorily and also keeps few (may be many) threads untied; but satisfactory ending all the same. It is a trilogy (as we know now), so many of the threads had to be left untied.

Now, on Brent’s writing. It has matured from the Night Angel trilogy. His style has improved vastly (for my taste) and is very engaging. He uses simpler language, unlike many high fantasy stories will use (there are pros and cons for both); but it works in this novel.

If you are planning to buy the book, then I would recommend the paperback, as it has couple of introductory chapters from the next book in the series The Blinding Knife. I have both hardcover and paperback versions.
It is also the right time to read this, as you may not have to wait too long for the sequel (it is scheduled for later this year).

For audiobook fans, the book has two options – single narrator version read by Cristofer Jean and audio drama from Graphic Audio. I have Cristofer Jean’s version which is well read from Audible.com. The Graphic Audio version is now available as a complete set (I want to get that box set). Both are great depending upon your taste.

In conclusion, this quick page turner is a must read. As always beg, borrow, or buy this book.

Click Here to visit Brent Weeks website.
Do not forget to sign up on the forums, you can interact with the author there.

Click Here to visit Graphic Audio site for The Black Prism.

Click Here to visit Audible.com page for The Black Prism.

Jatinder PS Nagi
January 6, 2012

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson…

This review is rather late, but the vast reading list I had during later half of 2011 and the release of Battlefield 3 game caused this delay. I was able to finish The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson during my vacations.

Absolutely amazing.

The Alloy of Law takes place 3 centuries after The Well of Ascension in the Mistborn universe. World has changed and Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history or religion. Mistborns (Allomancers who can burn all metals) are now found in legends and stories. Mostly, the world now has Mistings (Allomancers who can burn only one metal) or Feruchemists (who can use the metal to safe keep few traits); and few rare individuals who are both (Twinborns). The line of the allomancy is getting thin in bloodlines.

The cities are on the verge of modernization, railways are coming, horse carts will soon be things of the past. There are beaurocratic governments and few nobles have bigger hand in the government. Things have started to slip; nobel houses are competitive (similar to Lord Ruler’s times, as in Mistborn) and corruption has been creeping in.

The lands beyond the cities are called Roughs. The Roughs is where crime and criminals escape the law (and the cities). Few nobles give up the competitive life of the city, and become lawmen of the Roughs to bring these criminals to justice to create a better safer world.

One such is Lord Waxilliam Ladrian (or Wax), a twinborn of reputed nobel house. The predictability of the Roughs makes him feel safe there. His righteousness and honesty has brought many criminals to justice and that makes him a legend in the cities. An unexpected accidental death of his whole family forces him to retire as a lawman, and return to the city to take the reins of his house, which is undergoing financial troubles. In order to get his house of financial trouble, he starts to consider a mutually beneficial matrimonial alliance with another house.

But the past somehow catches up to him. The curtain is lifted from some criminal activities that are dramatically mysterious and circumstances brings him closer to one of the crimes. The lawman inside him prevails, and in order to solve the mystery of these crimes, he takes alliance with an old ally from the Roughs, Wayne, an allomancer, and a new one, Lady Marasi, a cousin of Wax’s to be betrothed. As they investigate the crime, Wax comes face to face with another lawmen from the Rough, Miles, whom he has worked in the past and who has gone rogue. Needless to say, the soup gets thicker.

Couple of familiar characters from the Mistborn universe makes their tiny appearances towards the end. I won’t tell you who they are, but keep a look out for them. It is almost nostalgic (I felt like going back to Mistborn series one more time).

Once again Sanderson weaves a story which is worth reading. In the traditional Sanderson-esque style, the details are aplenty and as the story progresses, readers get pulled in. The story reads like a fantasy and mystery set in steampunk era. There is allomancy and then there are guns, cranes, steam engines.

The Alloy of Law stands among my top 5 books of 2011, and from the author who is among my all time top 5 writers. The book does fall short – in words. The length of the book is not typical of Sanderson’ books; in fact it is almost a third of his standard books. This was something he wrote to get his mind “cleared” before going back to The Wheel of Time.

The story provides a satisfactory ending, a story set in post-The Well of Ascension, and a great introduction to the upcoming steampunk trilogy set in Mistborn universe. It does leave few strands untied.

If you are a fan of audiobooks, the book is read by Michael Kramer, who has read previous Mistborn series and the Wheel of time series. Michael does a great job and it feels natural continuation from original series. Personally, I like to listen to the book at 1.5 to 2 times the speed, because I find them a bit slower (Apple devices allow you to do that).

If you have not read Sanderson before, and are scared to pick one of his thick books, this is a great book to explore this author (be sure to read the appendix in the back to understand how the magic works in this universe).

In conclusion, I would say this is a great story, and a great book that now finds it sitting next to the other Sanderson books on my bookshelf. A must read, listen, or both for fans of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Steampunk, and Mystery genres.

Click here to visit Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law portal.

Click here to visit Brandon Sanderson’s site.

Please comment, share, and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.

Jatinder PS Nagi
December 26, 2011.

The Other Tolkien…

We all know the JRR Tolkien as an author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Many, including me, never knew that Hilary Arthur Reuel Tolkien, JRR’s younger brother, as an author. At least, he was when he was young.

In 2008, a small 88 page book was released titled Black and White Ogre country: Lost Tales of Hilary Tolkien. This book is edited by Angela Gardner and Illustrated by Jef Murray. Hilary’s grandchild discovered an old tattered notebook with some stories and it was quickly determined that it is a good idea to get them published.

The tales are flights of fancy put together by the Hilary, inspired by adventures brothers had as young boys. There are stories about black ogres, white ogres, black witches, white witches and many other curious folks, likely based on many of the people the brothers encountered. It is also an introductory journey into the minds of the young boys, one of whom was going to develop a world that we now know as Middle Earth.

Like Ronald, Hilary shows in interest in the all things natural. With time, the stories depict the changes in the countryside around them. There are reminiscences of something that may have influenced the tales of Middle Earth many years later. This is a small book that includes introduction to the notebook, the stories (edited and illustrated), and a brief biography of Hilary Tolkien.

This book also had a mention in Humphrey Carpenter’s Biography on JRR Tolkien.

After their mother died, John (10) and Hilary (8) were under the legal guardianship of the church priest who arranged for their Aunt to take the kids in. The arrangement fell out, and as the time passed, kids grew up moving from home to home. Hilary joined his uncle’s business and later British Army during World War I. After the war, Hilary got a home in Blackminster, near Evesham, maintained a Plum Orchard, married and had family. His house also became one of the venues for family get reunions. He kept in touch with his relatives, as well as his brother during their lifetime.

Hilary kept his creativity alive, with paintings and drawings. Some of them he used on the cards he used to send his relatives. He died in 1976.

I recently acquired a copy of this not so easily available book. The copy I got is the first edition and is signed by the editor – Angela Gardner and the illustrator – Jef Murray. Jef  has also made a small windmill doodle as a part of his signature.

Here are few more photos of the book.


Signature on the inside cover


Jef Murray’s Windmill Doodle in Pencil


Notebook of Hilary Tolkien


Returning Home by Jef Murray on the back cover of the book.

JPS Nagi
July 2011

Magic is magic … Bramble is bramble …

In Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemyst and Tobias Buckell’s The Executioness we meet characters from the world where bramble has taken over fertile farm lands and use of magic is punishable by death. Once a glorious and prosperous world, where magic was practiced freely; now has bramble everywhere. Bramble has strange affinity to magic; it roots itself where it senses magic has happened.
People are now poor and they live under fear of bramble whose needles are fatal to humans. The governance of the land executes anyone caught doing magic to make an example of.

Paolo Bacigalupi introduces us to Jeoz, in the book The Alchemyst. Jeoz has seen better days with magic, but now uses a small un-noticeable magic to cure his daughter’s cough in a hope that no one finds out. He is a scientist and finds a solution to solve the problem of bramble. It tells a story of ethics of science, a story of a father whose daughter is chronically ill, and an evil “creature”. Jonathan Davis voices the varied cast created by Bacigalupi.

Tobias Buckell opens up a story of Tana in The Executioness, set in the same world. It is a story of a mother, a daughter, and a wife, who stands up when her world is turned upside down. She stands up for survival and to bring her family back together. On the way, she meets raiders, traders in caravans, and a ruler who is a religious zealot preaching that salvation from a bramble infested world is possible only by following path he preaches. The woman and her axe becomes “The Executioness”. Katherine Kellgren brings an exotic acceted performance in this fantasy world.

To say the books are amazing, could be an understatement.
Audible Frontiers once again brings exclusive audio release of these two stories under the shared world experiment (similar to the METAtropolis series, where Tobias contributed too).
The world is dark and grim. Hope and life are fading fast. And bramble is taking over.

The real books are very difficult to come by. The audiobook is available as a set from Audible.com.
A good read, rather a good listen, for the lovers of sci-fi and fantasy genre.

Here are the covers for the two books:

Check out Paolo Bacigalupi’s site here.


Check out Tobias S. Buckell’s site
here.

Check details of the set at Audible.com.

JPS Nagi
June 27, 2011

The Creator and His Creation (Guest Blog by Rana)

Back in the day when we were kids, we never thought where we would be when we grew up. And then we grew up. Scores of years later, I came across Rana, one more time through the internet.

When you walk away from a place, in your mind the time seems to have stopped for that place. In your mind, the images, the people freeze. My mind also had a picture of Rana as that guy I knew during school. I had frozen him back in that time too. As I started interacting with him, I saw him as a person I knew from cryogenic chambers of my mind, yet I saw another side of him. Even being separated by more than 6000 miles, I could easily identify with him. He is like my long lost brother.

Rana writes. And he writes beautifully. What follows here is a piece he shared with some of us recently. It is a well thought, well written piece. So I decided to share it with the world.

This is the first contribution "guest blog" by Gurpreet Singh Rana, and that too without his knowledge. His writings may seem small like marble, but if you look closer, they envelop the universe. I hope he will contribute more "knowingly" in days to come and tickle our gray matter.

Here he is with "The Creator and His Creation"

He sat alone one day thinking
What if I create a world of living beings?
Lo and behold and the earth came into seeing
And came the mountains, the oceans and the spring
Came the stars, the moon the sun and all other things
And all those beauties, emotions and the musings
Then came the greed of the man, the lust and the cravings
Drew they lines; the countries,the continents came into viewing.

Sad He sat as He saw the wars, battles and the deceit
Sad He sat as He saw the poverty, religious fanatics and the people cheat
Sad He sat as He saw the corruption, oppression and the truth taking a defeat.

A man sat alone one day thinking
Who is the one who has made all these belongings?
Is He there or is He not, or all are just imagining
This creation is a chain of reactions, apply some reasoning
How do I believe that He made all which I am perceiving?
I am the supreme; I am the creator, of all these worldly things
I controlled the floods; I carved the mountains, and even did cloning
I have the power to reach the moon and now I am who is controlling

He sat alone one day, but He was not sad
He had a smile on His lips as He saw the human being brag
He reflected and remarked, “Is this the beginning of the end?”

September 10, 2010
Copyright Gurpreet Singh Rana

Humne to Nisaar Kar Diya Dil (Here I offer my heart)

Hum ne to nisaar kar diya dil,
Ab jane woh shokh, yaa na jaane.

Here I offer my heart to her,
To accept or say no is upto my sweet.
[Hasrat Mohani]

This was the ibteda (beginning) of my love. A new phase of my life, back then; I felt that it would decide my fate. If my heart is accepted, then aafreen, otherwise my name will join the list of aashiqs whose love story ended before it ever began.

I have lost the count of days since I first saw her. It must have been years and years, I believe. I still remember when I saw that beauteous face for the first time. And all I could say was,

Aap ko dekh kar dekhta rah gaya,
Kya kahoon aur kahne ko kya rah gaya.

I saw you and couldn’t take my eyes off,
What other words can describe your beauty.
[Aziz Qaisi]

I have no words to tell you how beautiful she is. Her glowing face, her long raven tresses, her honey dripping voice, her graceful gait like a gazelle, and her hazel eyes.

Yeh jafaaen gham ka chara, woh nijaat-e-dil ka aalam,
Tera husn dast-e-isah, teri yaad rooh-e-mariam.
Teri deed se siwa hai tere shauq mein bahaaran,
Woh zamin jahaan giri thi tere gaissuon ki shabnam.
Yeh ajab qayaamaten hain teri rahguzr mein guzraan,
Na hua ke mar miten hum, na hua ke ji uthe hum.

This cures oppressive griefs, that delivers the heart,
Your beauty is the hand of Christ, your memory Merriam’s face.
More beauteous than you is the love awakened earth,
Fertilized by dew of your fragrant lochs.
Strange are the calamities in the path of love,
Nor we have will to live, nor the strength to die.
[Faiz Ahmed Faiz]

And not to forget those ruby red lips,

Gharq-e-shaqar hue hain kaam-o-zabaan,
Jab liya hun main nam tuj lab ka.

My palate and tongue get honey drenched,
Whensoever I mention your lips.
[Wali Mohd. Wali]

And in this way my infatuation began. A strange feeling was all over me,

Dil-e-nadaan tujhe hua kya hai?
Aakhir is dard ki dawa kya hai?
Mai bhi munh mein zabaan rakhta hun,
Kaash puchho ke mudda kya hai?

What ails thee, my silly heart?
What balm for your ache, at last?
I too have a tongue, I too can speak,
Would that you ask, what I crave?
[Asadullah Khan Ghalib]

I was surrounded by her. She was in my dreams. She still is. I was restless. I started looking forward to seeing her each day; Wali has rightly said,

Dekhna har subah tujh rukhsaar ka,
Hai mutaala matlai-anwaar ka.
Subah tera daras paya tha sanam,
Shauq-e-dil muhtaaj hai taqraar ka.

To see your face every morn,
Is to see the glorious flush of dawn.
I saw you just this morning, Love,
Lo, my heart yearns again.
[Wali Mohd. Wali]

One is highly intoxicated when in love. Radiance of light of love spreads its aura all around you. Iqbal farmaate hain,

Anokhi waza hai saare zamaane se niraale hain,
Yeh aashiq kaunsi basti ke yaarab rahne waale hain.

Strange are their looks, out-of-this world they seem!
Wherefrom, O Lord, do these lovers spring?
[Sir Mohd. Iqbal]

I then thought of expressing myself. And thanks to the “Benevolent Lord of the Three Worlds” who arranged that also,

Baam par aane lage woh, samna hone laga,
Ab to izhaar-e-mohabbat barmila hone laga.

She now comes on roof top, face to face we stand,
Love is now proclaimed without least reserve.
[Hasrat Mohani]

But these encounters were unable to put my restless heart to rest. I then pumped all my blood into my heart and approached her, one day. I stopped her. She stopped. Smiled. I opened my mouth and ark! nothing came out of it. Them I stammered & stuttered. Her beautiful radiant face and equally beautiful smile had left me speechless. And before she left, all I could think was,

Mere dil ko kiya be-khud teri ankhion ne aakhir kon,
Ke jion be-hosh karti hai sharaab, ahista, ahista.

Your eyes,at last, have entranced my heart,
As wine benumbs our wits, step by step.
[Wali Mohd. Wali]

And all I could see was a drop of sweat, from her tresses trickled on her cheek and lo, how wondrous to see sun splashed over with dew. She again smiled and ran away. I stood there. Standing there. Still. And I told myself,

Ibtadaae ishq hai, rota hai kya,
Aage aage dekhiye hota hai kya.

It’s only the beginning, why dost thou groan?
O, wait and see what happens as you onwards move.
[Mir Taqi Mir]

I was captured by the long and deadly roots of love. More I tried to free myself, more I got entangled in them,

Yaad karna har ghari us yaar ka,
Hai wazifaa mujh dil-e-bimaar ka,
Aakbat kya howega maalum nahin,
Dil hua mubtla dildaar ka.

Remembering my Love all the time,
Is all the prayer my sick heart knows,
I know not how its going to end,
I’ve lost my heart to my sweet heart.
[Wali Mohd. Wali]

I was then avoided, tracks, streets, bazaars, changed on seeing me. I was sad,

Muddat hui sajan ne dikhaya nahin jamaal,
Dikhla apas ke kad kon kiya nahin nihaal.

For long hasn’t my Love shown her beauteous face,
Nor with her stately presence uplifted my state.
[Wali Mohd. Wali]

And I wailed,

Husn-e-be parwah ko khud bin-o-khud aara kar diya,
Kya kiya maine ke izhaare tamanna kar diya.

Beauty self-oblivious has turned self- aware,
O, why at all did I express my heart’s desire?
[Hasrat Mohani]

The days were tiring; the nights long,

Tum aae ho na shab-e-intzaar guzri hai,
Talaash mein sahar baar baar guzri hai.
Woh baat saare fasaane mein jiska zikar na tha,
Woh baat unko bahut nagawaar guzri hai.
Na gul khile hain, na unse mile hain, na mai pi hai,
Ajib rang mein ab ke bahaar guzri hai.

You haven’t come, nor has the night of waiting gone,
Looking for you the morn has called again & again.
What did not even figure in the tale entire,
To that he has taken very grave offence.
No flames, no wine, no sight of my friend,
In what queer way we’ve spent this spring.
[Faiz Ahmed Faiz]

Nobody heard my cry, but nothingness. All words were lost there. Days passed. Months passed. And even did the years. Nothing was exchanged between us. There was vast, immense, dark and dead silence. My heart was crushed, that was the first time I realized it.

Tujhiko jo yaan jalwa farma na dekha,
Baraabar hai duniya ko dekha na dekha.
Mera Guncha-e-dil hai woh dil grifta,
Ke jis ko kaso ne kabhi wa na dekha.
Aziat, musibat,malaamat, balaaen,
Tere ishq mein hum ne kya kya na dekha?
Kiya mujh ko daaghon ne sarv-e-chiraaghan,
Kabhi tune aakar tamaasha na dekha.

If here we see thee not immanent in thy grace,
What use then, our earthly pilgrimage?
My heart is such a crumpled bud,
None has ever seen it bloom.
Trouble, torture, reproach, disaster,
What all haven’t I suffered in love?
The scars within have set me ablaze,
Alas, you haven’t seen this sight.
[Khwaja Mir Dard]

I had initiated. She had taken a step back. So I coiled all my feelings around myself. Meetings became scanty. On those rare occasions when we used to see each other, I would often think,

Roya karenge aap bhi pahron isi tarah,
Atka kahin jo aapka dil bhi meri tarah.

You too shall weep for hours on end, if your
Heart, like mine, somewhere gets entwined.
[Momin Khan Momin]

Then the sky fell down on my head. She was in love with someone else. The sky had fallen over my head. The world must have reached qayaamat (end of the world). But, I could spare a smile for her,

Donon jahaan teri mohabbat mein haar ke,
Woh jaa raha hai koi shab-e-gham guzaar ke.
Bhule se muskra to diye hum aaj Faiz,
Mat puchh walwale dil-e-naakarda kaar ke.

Having lost both worlds in the game of love,
There goes lonesome man, ending his night in grief.
Today, Faiz, unawares you chanced to give a smile,
O what a swell and surge within my powerless heart.
[Faiz Ahmed Faiz]

Once, when I met her, I told her,

Mera ji hai jab tak, teri justju hai,
Zabaan jab talak hai, yehi guftgu hai,
Tamanna hai teri, agar hai tamanna,
Teri aarzoo hai, agar aarzoo hai.

Your quest is my objective, as long as I live,
Of you alone I talk, while I have a tongue,
For you alone I yearn, if yearn at all,
You are my desire, if I harbour one.
[Khwaja Mir Dard]

And I was reminded of Ghalib’s great ghazal,

Hazaaron khwaaeshen aisi ke har khwahish pe dam nikle,
Bahut nikle mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle.
Nikalna khuld se adam ka sunte aaye the lekin,
Bahut be-aabroo ho kar tere kuche se hum nikle.

Thousand of desires tantalizing one and all,
Many a wish have I realized; yet I yearn for more.
Oft have we heard about Adam’s exile from Eden,
Humiliating much more was my exit from your door.
[Asadullah Khan Ghalib]

And, with what else can I end but,

Hum parwarsh-e-loh-o-qalam karte rahenge,
Jo dil pe guzarti hai raqam karte rahenge.
Ek tarz-e-taghaaful hai so woh unko mubarak,
Ek tarz-e-tamanna hai so hum karte rahenge.

We’ll keep on plying the pen on the page,
Record shall we the tale of our heart.
A style of indifference will be her way,
A style of submission will be our creed.
[Faiz Ahmed Faiz]

April 1995/ (revisited) May 1997

Copyright JPS Nagi.

The English translation of the Urdu poetry is taken from the book “Masterpieces of Urdu Ghazals” by K.C. Kanda, Sterling Press, India. This was the first piece of writing I put together. I was under many spells, one of them being the Urdu poetry.

Shiv – The Golden Voice

Shiv Kumar Batalvi is an Sahitya Academy Award (1967) winning poet of Punjabi language. He is known for his romantic poetry for its passion, pathos and the pain of separation. Batala (District Amritsar, Punjab) became his home town in India after the partition, and that also gave him his takhaluss,Batalvi”. It is said that he had a failed love affair that came out in the form of intense passion and pathos in his writings. He never confirmed these rumors. He tactfully avoided the subject during his interviews.

His poems are very popular among the Punjabi singer on both sides of the border. Jagjit & Chitra Singh, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Surinder Kaur, Assa Singh Mastana, Mahendra Kapoor, Hans Raj Hans, are some of the singers who have brought the birha from Shiv’s songs to the vast audience.

Here, I am presenting some of the rare recordings of Shiv Kumar Batalvi reciting his poems. This is how he meant these to be read, sung, and recited. Click on the links below to play the songs in the browser.

Ek Kudi

Ki Puchdey O Haal Faqiran Da

Shikhar Dupehar Sir Te

The recordings are noisy, as these were converted from ancient All India Radio (AIR) archives. They will sound best with low treble. I am working to clean them up, and will update these.

Please provide comments.

August 2010.

Copyright JPS Nagi