A grand historical novel of love, intrigue and ambition—inspired by the sculptures on the Sun Temple of Konark.
It is the thirteenth century AD. The kingdom of Kalinga is flourishing, having recently defeated Turkish forces encroaching from the North and established thriving ties as far afield as Africa. King Narasimha Ganga plans to immortalize himself by building the magnificent Sun Temple at the edge of the sea. However, unable to decide on the perfect design, and beset by financial woes, he decides to focus on something more congenial: sending a royal gift of prime cattle to an African Sultan. Meanwhile, his neglected consort searches for solace by studying the stars, and her young cousin drifts aimlessly through the palace, playing the flute and flirting with handsome soldiers.
When Narasimha’s childhood friend, the Crown Prince of Parijatapuri arrives, pursued by a band of assassins, to keep him out of harm’s way, Narasimha dispatches both him—as his Envoy—and his feckless cousin-in-law—as Superintendent of the Cattle—on the voyage to Africa. They must deliver the cattle and bring back a zarafa, an exotic four-legged animal with ‘the neck of a snake’ which, according to the half-Chinese Royal Scrivener, is ‘a harbinger of fortune and serenity’.
Before the voyage is over, all the characters are transformed as they juggle clandestine love affairs and treasonous plots, endure arduous journeys and have terrifying encounters with unknown monsters.
Written in lush, vivid prose, leavened by wry humour, and teeming with memorable characters, The Sun and Two Seas is an enchanting read.
As the British Raj begins its expansion towards Tibet, the remote Apatani valley on the Indo-Tibetan border becomes a flashpoint. George Taylor, an up-and-coming officer in the Indian Civil Service, leads the first expedition into the valley and recommends setting up a base nearby, as the Apatanis are a ‘friendly tribe’. During the expedition, a tenuous bond is established between him and Gyati, the Apatani shaman who has long been anxious about the halyang outsiders creeping closer and closer to the ordered world of the valley. But this bond cannot survive. The increased British presence and their arrogance towards the hill tribes causes resentment; the tension escalates until it culminates in an act that has tragic consequences for both men, and for their sons, Charles and Komo.
Stuart Blackburn vividly brings alive the Apatani worlds: the seen one, perfectly fitted into its valley, with people linked to the land and each other through bonds of reciprocity and tradition, as well as the spirit world, into which shamans enter to invite blessings and navigate the souls of their dead safely to rest. His exploration of what happens when this settled civilization forcibly collides with British Empire-builders sensitively portrays the impact of the forces of colonialism on both sides—and gives readers a nail-biting mystery to solve.
Into the Hidden Valley: A Novel is the winner of M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction 2016. Parnel Bennetts presented the award to Stuart Blackburn at the HNS Conference in Oxford, England.