To our knowledge, there has been one often-heard piece of criticism about Samit Basu’s GameWorld Trilogy: that it has been ripped off from every best-selling or cultish science fiction and fantasy (SF/F) book ever written. But he always claimed it was a spoof—we have argued— with ideas derived from SF/F, mythology, pop culture and cinema.
The Unwaba Revelations:
Our argument faltered a little when on page 128 of the just-released third part, The Unwaba Revelations, we found an almost word-for-word recreation of the nimble elf Legolas’ oliphant-surfing scene from the film version of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003). In Basu’s book, Haroun of Artaxerxia used swords instead of arrows on a regular elephant and then “slid smoothly down the trunk and landed gently on the field”. If you want to copy scenes from epic battles, we think you should do it directly from J.R.R. Tolkien, not Peter Jackson’s version of Tolkien.
But that aside, we found Basu’s culmination of the trilogy a delicious read. The Simoqin Prophecies and The Manticore’s Secret were about what happens when gods create the world as a game, control the key players and wager on its outcome. What makes this trilogy appealing is that Basu sees the fun in duels, magic and dragons as a mode of transport; he doesn’t take himself and the fantasy genre too seriously. But the lack of seriousness doesn’t make it any less of a good fantasy read.
Another one of Basu’s strengths is that he knows that by being Indian, he has access to a database of mythology, stories and characters, which he exploits to the fullest. Heroes called Asvin stuff laddus in their mouths and Akab, a rakshas, terrorizes the forest of Shantavan.
Books 1 and 2 were filled to bursting point with fantastical characters such as a homicidal fluffy rabbit called Steel-Bunz, Red, a schizophrenic shape-shifter and a meditating barbarian named Thog, who had to dress exactly like his wooden action figure (silk thong and camel loincloth), according to rule 2:3 of the Guild of Superb Heroes. Book 3 doesn’t introduce too many new characters, but completes the crazy ride for Kirin, the Dark Lord’s heir, and Maya, the pretty young spellbinder. Under the guidance of a sleepy, future-seeing unwaba, the oldest of the chameleons, Kirin and Maya stay hidden, trying not to attract the gods’ attention while they attempt to save the world from an apocalypse. The duo figure out a rather interesting way to visit Zivran, one of the gods who cheated at the game, and try to blackmail him into making them another world. Meanwhile, epic battles rage all around, and there’s the usual end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it mayhem.
In this book, Basu gets even more descriptive than the first two—the chapter about the Pyramid of the First Pharaoh is something even The Mummy movies, with all their SFX, could not capture. Give this chapter a miss if guts, gore and “long forked serpent-tongues lolling over their gaping open chests and exposed snake-egg hearts” is a tad much for your constitution. We, on the other hand, couldn’t get enough. But we wish Basu hadn’t given his trademark humour a break in the middle of the book—for a few chapters we couldn’t tell if we were reading him or any other fantasy writer who takes him/herself rather seriously.
Our advice to readers: Start by revisiting the previous two; we discovered we had missed out on some subtle details. Then, when you pick up The Unwaba Revelations, savour it slowly, like a single malt, because Basu has mellowed with age.