Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove is author Rati Mehrotra’s upcoming young adult fantasy novel, and, to put it simply, it’s a great one. The book draws from Indian folklore and mythology in its majestic setting of an alternate medieval India, but it also feels monumental in its own proportions as a glorious, mythic narrative of a hero and her journey.
Katyani has a magical bond with the queen of Chandela, whom she serves as a bodyguard. After she fails to uncover who’s behind an assassination plot, Katyani is sent to the gurukul, a monastic school beyond the forest led by the strict Acharya Mahavir, to guard the two princes of Chandela, Bhairav and Ayan.
Although Katyani has a brief but growing attraction to Daksh, the Acharya’s son, her time at the school is cut short as a massive political plot begins unfolding. Katyani is the one who reaps the consequences and loses those she loves to someone else’s greed for power. To avenge herself and her family, she must embark on a journey across the land, seeking the help of monsters and humans to uncover the truth of the plot and how to save the kingdom.
The variety of monsters is absolutely the most engrossing part of Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove. Drawing extensively from Indian mythology and folklore, Mehrotra incorporates blood-sucking vetalas who live in banyan trees, a rage-filled daayan out for revenge, and a seductive yakshini who demands a kiss in payment for shelter. Readers are able to visualize the distinct characteristics of each of these monsters, even if it’s a bit difficult to understand what they are at first. Similar to the jaw-dropping intensity of monster hunting in the TV show The Witcher, the monster battles and encounters here are so diverse and uniquely interesting that any television adaptation of this novel would be sure to thrive.
Although the first portion of the novel moves a bit slowly — there’s some meandering when it comes to Katyani’s happy time spent in the gurukul, leaving readers wondering about the stiffness of the voice and the draw of the plot — Mehrotra more than makes up for it in the fast-paced second half. The political plot to steal the kingdom feeds into Katyani’s determination to seek revenge and orchestrate her vindication, combined with some exhilarating action scenes.
Katyani’s character motivation provides a stunningly well-crafted and deep look at one girl’s discovery of self. There’s a sharp contrast between the playful atmosphere Katyani thrives in in the first half and the tone of absolute despair that is created after several heart-wrenching betrayals in the second, a contrast that becomes more impactful as the story goes on. The whole emotional journey that Katyani goes through is deep and dark, and it all connects to the political plotting that goes on right under her nose. After the rocky beginning, Mehrotra establishes a rhythm to her story with a tight grasp. It’s the kind of drama that is so large in scale that the stakes become incredibly high.
Katyani’s initial flirtations with Daksh, the upright and rigid son of the Acharya, give way to a relationship that is expressed through actions more than words. That’s where the romance shines, however muted it may be. Because the book is structured to show the disintegration of all Katyani knows, she has to constantly question who she can trust and who trusts her.
Throughout all of the betrayals in the novel, one will find solace in Daksh’s presence in Katyani’s life, as well as the familiar and much-loved dynamic that the two represent: the seemingly cold, guarded one falling in love with the lively, energetic counterpart. Daksh is a love interest who doesn’t rely on cheesy lines or outward professions of love, but instead small gestures like making sure soup doesn’t dribble down Katyani’s chin when he’s feeding her. Daksh also demonstrates his feelings for Katyani through his rebellion against his father, which turns out to be the greatest gesture of love he gives Katyani. It’s a common expression that one has to show rather than tell when it comes to writing. Daksh does that as a character.
Although the romance isn’t the main point of Night of the Raven, Dawn of the Dove, it serves as a wonderful aside to what is, which is the many relationships between characters throughout the novel. The ties between characters are what make up the foundation of the political mystery, especially considering the literal magical bonds that Katyani possesses throughout the novel. Once the story gets going, it runs, unraveling the many layers of the magic, politics, and intrigue that border each corner.
Through it all, the book reflects on power struggles, a key aspect of its medieval setting, and what family means beyond blood. A spectacular journey on all fronts, this is the book that will make you want to fight monsters to read: a story to save the kingdom for.