Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, especially if it is about India. I was quite excited to find that The Brahmin is about Ashoka and his spymaster. Ashoka’s second queen, Asandhimitra, also plays an important part in the story.
There are detailed descriptions of palace architecture and layout, costumes, and customs and rituals. It is interesting to see how the Greek way of life has been absorbed by the Mauryans. The intermeshing of Macedonians and Magadhans is apparent throughout the story as Greek soldiers play a key role in this whodunnit.
Chanakya’s pupil, The Brahmin, who is also the head of the king’s Secret Service, is one of the few people trusted by Ashoka. Aided by his favorite spies, Hao and Antochlius, The Brahmin sets out to discover who has killed one of the king’s concubines.
In the process, it appears Queen Asandhimitra is also implicated in the murder! Radhagupta, Ashoka’s prime minister, and Lord Suma, a Kalinga spy who is also the ambassador to Magadha, weave their own deadly webs to trap the Brahmin and destroy the king’s trust in him.
Before the first murder can be solved, there is a second murder–further denting the Brahmin’s reputation as an efficient spy. A famed assassin, the Blood Flower, seems to be working for Kalinga, making the spymaster’s work doubly difficult.
Will the spymaster be able to solve the murder within seven days–as demanded by Ashoka? Will he be able unravel the secrets that the Queen is keeping from the king? Will Magadha be able to keep the Kalingan threat at bay?
The pace of storytelling is just right–a lot is happening, with the right amount of violence and emotion. There is a strong Buddhist influence; the characters evoke various responses to the Buddha–from hate to veneration.
However, the plot is so complex that the mystery is more of a brain teaser. Too many secrets, too much intrigue. It was off-putting at times to be unable to follow the numerous threads.
The ambassador’s plotting behind Queen Asandhimitra’s birthday gift was easy to guess, but the Greek and Buddhist connection baffled me. Even after the Brahmin revealed (almost) all at the end in a Hercule Poirot style, I still had several questions unanswered.
Perhaps a more discerning mind or a deeper reading is needed to understand the story. Had the plot been slightly simpler, I might have enjoyed the book more.
(I accessed the book via a Kindle Unlimited subscription.)