AGE OF SHIVA
by James Lovegrove
Review by David Sands
Ancient Indian mythology and modern military fiction meet in a melee of super-powered politics and violence.
The Age of Shiva is James Lovegrove’s latest romp into what’s being called ‘Godpunk’, his distinctive set of stories that imagine how ancient mythologies would play-out in the modern world. Having already worked wonders with the pantheons of the ancient Egyptians (Age of Ra), Norse (Age of Odin) and Greeks (Age of Zeus), Lovegrove has now turned his gaze eastward to raid the folk stories of the Indus Civilisation.
Taking his cue from The Vedas, an Indian equivalent to the Bible, Lovegrove has gone all-out and crafted a super-hero team, specifically The Dashavatara, the 10 avatars which the Indian god Vishnu inhabited across the ages, as the novel’s subject matter.
So it’s a bit confusing and disjointing to have Zachary Bramwell, a neurotic comic book artist, as the narrator of this tale. Granted that a third of the way into the novel he becomes essential, it took me a while to figure out why he was actually in this title in the first place.
The story opens with Zach being kidnapped and taken to Mount Meru, a fictional island in the Indian Ocean. There The Trinity Syndicate, a collaborative business partnership of a media tycoon, an arm’s dealer and a geneticist, reveal that they have artificially created The Dashavatara using good ‘oul science, specifically by a process called theogenesis. They then hire Zach to design the costumes for the Dashavatara and hence explain why he was given narration duties.
From a story-structure perspective, I thought the novel was alright. The opening was slow and confusing as I tried to fathom why Zach, who didn’t do anything, was in the story. Granted he does become useful later on, I have to keep that part under wraps for spoiler alerts. The story and interest only really begun when The Dashavatara got introduced. From there on out, frequent demon battles, which Lovegrove handles with so much skill that reading it feels effortless, are the order of the day.
The middle arc was very well handled where India and Pakistan descend into armed conflict over Kashmir. That entire segment, which I thought would exactingly mirror the reality of that situation, lifted the novel from the slow opening. I also really enjoyed how the noble vibe of the Dashavatara gradually got shown up for what it really was during that arc; a set of genetically modified weapons-for-hire.
The final arc continued to tick the boxes. The action was nice and placed where novel speed starting sagging, the interplay between the high numbers of characters was made good on and a sense of excitement and anticipation at the story building to a breathless climax were all delivered brilliantly.
It was the ending where I had problems. I didn’t know how to make sense of it. It ended with Zach and The Dashavatara about to execute the villains when suddenly the chapter ended and skipped to an epilogue. There we were essentially told to make our own endings up.
Some people may find that a ‘clever’ story device, inviting creative responses from ardent fans. But for me, that screamed of a job that was half-finished, a story that wasn’t resolved.
Which is a shame, because save for a lax opening (with one too many out-of-place comic book references), this novel was ace. A brilliant reframing of classic Indus mythology, brought kicking and screaming into a world where greedy corporations, nature-meddling scientists and rash governments all work to distort what’s supposed to be something pure and good.