Sons of Darkness

By Gourav Mohanty

Sons of Darkness, a novel by Gourav Mohanty
Book details

Fantasy is a wonderful genre, and it has become more so in recent years as it has grown in diversity. It felt for a while that fantasy was always epic and set in some sort of alternative Europe. There were plenty of alternatives to find if you looked, but today theses are abundant and that is fantastic in keeping the life blood of the genre alive. Gourav Mohanty’s Sons of Darkness is an alternative take on The Mahabharata, taking the inherent politics and violence of the epic tale and creating a classic feeling low fantasy epic. 

The Magadhan Empire is controlled by a series of Kingdoms constantly in conflict with one another. Royal families will marry or kill one another just to get more power. Within this structure people need to exist from royals looking to hold on to what power they have, to those hiding in the shadows trying to direct events. Others have no say in their fate, caught up in the wars of the rich and magical – these soldiers and citizens must do what they can to survive, be that fighting, turning to torture, or becoming an assassin. 

What do you want from your fantasy? There is no longer just one type of fantasy book, they are not all sweeping epics telling the stories of heroes and kings over hundreds of pages. But some of them still are and Sons is places itself happily in this camp. Mohanty has taken inspiration from antient India, but also from some of the modern giants of fantasy, in particular, George R R Martin. Mohanty goes as far to thank Martin and the influence he had, but it is also apparent on the page. 

Sons is very much a fantasy epic, there are many characters telling several stories. The decisions that many of these characters will take will cause kingdoms to rise and fall. Rather than leaping too quickly between characters, Mohanty instead focuses on one of two at a time and breaks the story into parts. Later, the tale leaps from one character to another and as they are established, we can understand who is who and what their motives are. 

There is a lot to take in, the story truly feels epic, large parts are taken up with character development and setting up the political intrigue, but there are also action moments to break things up. It feels like Game of Thrones in places but is based on a text that predates even the first book in that series by a couple of thousand years. I was not versed in The Mahabharata, but Mohanty does a respectable job of introducing the setting and players to the reader. Even to the layperson, there are some characters that they will have heard of. 

With its use of magic, I would consider this high fantasy, but due to the violence and gritty nature of the story, it would appeal more to the low fantasy fan. There are scenes in this book that will disturb even the hardiest souls from the fate of a female fighting force, to the torture of children. The book ends on an epic battle that is brilliantly written. Visceral and grim, Mohanty does not just focus on the main characters, but gives individuals fighting their moment. This is often only a moment as we are normally present to witness their death.  

Sons is a novel that could have felt too epic, the stakes are too high, but Mohanty focusses on the men/woman behind the myth. Epic heroes are flawed. We also get to follow some more grounded people, the sad story of Nala nicely offsets the larger scale elements, but she in turn will have a role to play in future events.  

If you are fan of proper 600+ fantasy novels with loads of characters, political shenanigans and a cast that will not all make it, Sons of Darkness is a great new entry into the market. The setting makes it different, but the style places it squarely in the low fantasy genre. Mohanty has done an impressive job of balancing antient myths with modern low fantasy. 

Written on 6th July 2023 by .

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