“The author has a flair for spectacular set-pieces and drama, honed during his time as a screenwriter. This is clearly on display in the opening chapter where a troop of Langur monkeys invade the cemetery where a peaceful group of Rhesus monkeys live, killing most of the residents leaving just a handful of refugees.
The first part of the book alternates between the experiences of Papina, a young Rhesus girl and Mico, a young boy in the militaristic Langur troop. Papina’s story tells of a small group of survivors, trekking the city to find a new home where they will be safe, and to pick up the tatters of their life. Mico is the runt of his family, far smaller than his brother, but with a sharp mind. By chance, he witnesses some of the Langur soldiers brutally kill a lone Rhesus, yet their leaders are claiming that the Rhesus are the aggressors leaving him conflicted and unsure who to trust. Langur boys all do military training, so he joins up and tries to fit in.
Papina sneaks into her old home through a secret entrance and meets Mico on a training exercise. They form an uneasy friendship, her stories of the Langur attacks contradicting the official reports he’s been told, adding to Mico’s doubt. Mico’s clever mind is noticed by Tyrell, one of the Langur leaders and he is promoted to the Intelligence Division.
In the middle section of the book, the Langur go on an all-out war against all the rest of the monkeys in Kolkata, with Mico stuck between following the orders of the increasingly paranoid Tyrell, and protecting Papina and her friends. The rest of the Langur, bred from an early age not to question orders, and fed with misinformation, revel in their bloodlust. There are certainly some shocking events in the book, though the book never gets too gory for the intended audience.
The novel also avoids melodrama, the fast pacing meaning there’s no time for characters to wallow in self-pity and introspection, or at least when they do it is implied and not on the page. The darkest character is probably Fig, a Rhesus mother who has lost everything from her life. Despite only being a minor character, she plays a crucial role in the story. I think an adult book may have fleshed out her depression more fully, though this is not really a criticism.
The world building is well done too, the descriptions of the locations around the city feel like real places, and are teeming with life (both human and animal).
Verdict: I really enjoyed this book, it is fast-paced throughout, constantly inventive, and my usual complaint of poor endings in novels doesn’t apply (a solid ending, with a few deliberate hanging threads). A great introduction for teens to the machinations of politics and complexities of war.”
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