I received this as an Advance Reader Copy (released July 12th 2016) from a Goodreads giveaway so take all my opinions and observations with a larger grain of salt than usual.
Alok, a middle class college professor, meets a stranger one night in Kolkata. The stranger begins to tell Alok magically engrossing tales about shapeshifters and even claims to be one himself. Alok cannot shake his curiosity in the stranger and agrees to multiple meetings with him. He soon agrees to take a job transcribing documents given to him by the nameless man. These documents contain a story about humanity, love, and myth. They unlock the secrets of the stranger and release a part of Alok as well.
I have to throw a huge disclaimer out here. This book is not for the faint of heart or the easily offended. I’ll list off a few things that this book contains: graphic sex, lengthy descriptions of violence and gore, cursing, rape, homosexuality, cross-dressing, and human/animal excrement.
Still here? OK, great! The strongest thing about this novel is its plot. The story is told from the perspective of Alok in some parts and other parts are supposed to be the story contained within the documents he is transcribing. I was a little unsure of this organization, but it ultimately worked. I initially wanted to know more about the stranger and Alok so I didn’t care about the document sections, but within them is the real story. Bouncing between past and present isn’t confusing and the views of the past hold a lot of real life history and mythology.
The characters are good, but they don’t particularly stand out. Alok is a bit stiff and the stranger isn’t given direct attention except in flashbacks near the end. The real characters are in the document I keep mentioning. Thankfully, their stories are told from their perspective. If they weren’t I can imagine that this novel would feel very much like “telling” and not “showing.”
So yes, call me disgusting if you want, but I actually like this novel despite how graphic it is. I can certainly understand why it may put some readers off. What bothered me the most out of that long list above was probably the parts about excrement. When the shapeshifters change or fight they seem to uh… lose control of their human embarrassments and societal norms. At times this is a bit distracting and I don’t think it needs to be mentioned as often to get the point across that the shapeshifters are not human and are very primal/animalistic. That being said, throughout the novel there is a lot of commentary on fitting in, societies, forbidden love, and gender. It is so weird to me that a novel that is- on the surface- a vulgar fantasy actually has a lot to offer.