Book Review: Kavithri (Ghosts of Ethuran, #1) by Aman J. Bedi

Book Review: Kavithri (Ghosts of Ethuran, #1) by Aman J. Bedi

ARC provided by the publisher—Gollancz—in exchange for an honest review.

Cover art illustrated by Giby Joseph

Kavithri by Aman J. Bedi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Series: The Ghosts of Ethuran (Book #1 of 3)

Genre: Fantasy, Epic Fantasy

Pages: 448 pages (Hardcover edition)

Word Count: 111,500 words

Publish date: 16th of May 2024 by Gollancz

Imagine an engaging Indian-inspired steampunk fantasy debut reminiscent of The Poppy War with an empathetic heroine with a rein on her wrath. That’s Kavithri.

Since I posted the cover reveal of Kavithri by Aman J. Bedi at the end of last year, my interest in this heavily South-Asian-inspired fantasy novel has sparked. Especially after hearing from the author that some of my favorite series, manga, and anime, such as Kaladin from The Stormlight Archive, Malazan Book of the Fallen, Berserk by Kentaro Miura, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and more contributed to the creation of this novel. There was no possible way I’d skip reading this. And although I failed to see much of these inspirations in Kavithri, the book did not disappoint. Clocking in at 100k words, Kavithri is not a doorstopper fantasy novel, and I believe this is an example of a short fantasy book done right. This first installment in the Ghosts of Ethuran series was satisfying and difficult to put down in some sections, especially once Kavithri reached the battle school section.

“I am tired, reader. Tired of the endless commentary by men who will never fight. Tired of how they talk and argue and ignore the bottomless poverty of our people. There is only one language the Empire speaks, and it begins and ends with violence.”

Kavithri is an outcast, underdog, and survivor, and she is a Taemu. Once feared as berserkers and the spearhead of a continent-spanning invasion, her people are now the dregs of Raayan society. Their spirits were crushed, their swords broken, and their history erased. But Kavi has a dream and a plan, and she is determined to do whatever it takes to earn a place at the secretive mage academy. Face the Jinn within its walls and gain the power to rise above her station and drag her people out of the darkness. But power and knowledge, as always, come at a cost. The world no longer needs a Taemu, and they will break her and make her bleed. But Kavi is resilient, and she will not back down until she achieves what she wants, even if that is through her berserker’s fury.

I won’t lie. When I first heard about the premise of Kavithri, I was instantly reminded of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang more than anything else. From the main character, the themes, the storyline, and the execution, many parts and elements of Kavithri will remind readers of The Poppy War. I expected that would be the case, and considering that The Poppy War was such an explosive read for me, I certainly didn’t mind reading a, let’s say, South Asian version of the story. However, it won’t be accurate to restrict Kavithri to a South Asian duplicate of The Poppy War despite their resemblances. There were several crucial things that differed Kavithri from The Poppy War. One of some examples, and this is what I did not expect, was how much more likable Kavi is compared to Rin from The Poppy War. To be fair… Rin was intentionally designed to be unlikable, and Kuang achieved her mission. Kavi is not the case. She is empathetic. Knows the price of her deadly power. And she is doing everything she can to control her power, not letting it let loose non-stop. Personality-wise, despite the similar premise, Kavi is almost the polar opposite of Rin. And because of this, it was easier for me to feel invested in reading her story to shape a better life for herself and her people.

“She’d searched for heroes for as long as she could remember. She’d looked for them in books, in stories, in legends. But they’d been around her all along. Warriors who went into battle every day, knowing that what awaited them at the end was failure. They smiled, bowed, scraped. Never faltered. Never permitted the dignity of rage. They were her royalty. Her heroes.”

It did take me some time to get used to the Indian words (which you can search online to understand) and terminologies, but as I said, once Kavithri enters the academy, the book gets better and better with each chapter. I honestly disagree with the claim that Kavithri is a grimdark fantasy novel, though. Do not get me wrong. I’ve never read a fantasy novel with characters that fart as much as the characters surrounding Kavithri, and the novel did get dirty and violent as we enter the second half of the book, especially during the explosive climax sequence, but the tone of the book was more hopeful than grim or hopeless for me. Kavi met plenty of characters that were good to her as well, and the book is better for it. Bithun’s mentorship relationship with Kavi, in particular, was probably my favorite of the book. And the magic system and world-building that implemented steampunk elements were fun to read.

“Anyone—anyone, who stands between you and your dream is an enemy. And if they refuse to move, you do not hesitate to move them. You understand?”

Unfortunately, I did not form a strong connection with the supporting characters as much as I hoped; they were not memorable or distinct enough, in my opinion. Kavithri herself and the world were the biggest strengths of the book, and thanks to that, Kavithri remains such a great debut novel with captivating development, journey, and satisfying ending. The themes and the impact of colonialism, poverty, oppression, and the caste system were explored effectively in this Indian-inspired fantasy world. Despite ending in a standalone manner, it is practically guaranteed there will be a sequel to Kavithri, and I look forward to reading it when the time comes.

You can order this book from: Amazon | Blackwells (Free International shipping)

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