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Raiders from the North

You can put away the pliers, waterboard and cat-o-nine tails from wherever you grabbed them. There’s no need to drag out the rack or iron maiden to get this blogger to come clean. I freely confess to loving history. I’m hopelessly drawn to the doings of the past, convinced that the yet spotless future may be shaped by history’s lessons. I’m also susceptible to good storytelling, which in turn, fuels a passion for historical fiction. Who doesn’t enjoy learning while being entertained in the process? It’s a delicious cycle and I’m helpless to fight the affliction. Thus sentenced, I usually keep my eyes peeled, scanning titles for any new releases gracing the genre.

When the book initially presented itself for review through an email query, I seized at the title, “Raiders from the North”. Thinking some scholarly author with a creative bent tackled the storied lore of the Vikings with a newly penned historical novel, I eagerly typed a reply, urging the book onward. With visions in mind of Vikings spilling out of their dragon bowed longboats to pillage and plunder helpless European monastaries and isolated villages, I settled in to await the book’s arrival.

Arriving home from work two days later, I discovered a package propped against the front door. Looking forward to a relaxed evening reading of Viking exploits, I ripped the manila envelope open, freeing the book from its bubblewrapped confines. Scanning the cover art, I admired the ornate etch and design of a golden battle axe slanting across the cover. Then my eyes gravitated to the subtitle, “Empire of the Moghul”. Groaning, I retreated inside.

Possessing a keen grasp of the obvious, it finally dawned on me that this novel had absolutely nothing to do with the fearsome, heathen norsemen of legend. In fact, my assumption of the novel’s subject matter on the basis of the title missed by a few centuries and a continent. Fortunately, this once, a misplaced assumption paid off.

Admittedly, I did not know much about the Moghuls and the empire they carved out of the Indian subcontinent. Having studied enough history to earn a minor in it during undergraduate studies, I was familiar with the usual information, i.e., Babur, dates of conquest and basic geopolitical sphere of influence, etc. “Raiders from the North: Empire of the Moghul”, filled in the gaps.

Good historical fiction not only emulates the heroes of yore, but breathes life into them, giving the reader a living character. Rutherford succeeds, doing just that in this first novel of a planned trilogy chronicling the rise of the Moghuls.

Meet Babur, heir to a poor, isolated kingdom situated north of the Hindu Kush mountains. Losing his father and the kingdom at the age of 12, Babur finds himself on the run, forced to hide and gather his strength as he learns and masters the brutal art of tribal politics replete with ancient blood rivalries and bitter enmities. Infused with a determination reminiscent of his forefathers Genghis Khan and Timur the Lame, Babur reclaims his father’s throne and forges across the Hindu Kush, taming the fierce Afgan warriors of the mountains and taking the throne of Kabul for himself, before turning his sights on Kashmir and Hindustan. Certain that his destiny is to rival that of Genghis and Timur, Babur thirsts for the many purported riches beyond the Indus River, pressing his quest for empire south into the hinterland of India.

In sum, Alex Rutherford’s fascinating re-creation of the wickedly cunning and ruthlessly ambitious Babur made me all but forget about the Vikings. Now, I’m about to fire up my Nook and see if the sequel is available for download.

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