Today I am interviewing Ashok K. Banker, author of the new fantasy novel, Upon a Burning Throne, first book in the Burnt Empire Saga.
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DJ: Hi Ashok! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Ashok: Hi DJ! Thanks so much for having me! Happy to be here. I’m an Indian author best known for my English-language retellings of Indian mythological epics and historical legends. I’ve also been credited as having “pioneered” or “launched” the Indian genres of crime fiction, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and genre fiction in general, in the English-language. I created and wrote India’s first television series in English, and co-wrote Malaysia’s first television series in English. Upon a Burning Throne is my 70th published book to date, and my first book published in the United States.
DJ: What is Upon a Burning Throne about?
Ashok: Upon a Burning Throne is a story about a great empire that dominates the world of Arthaloka, and the three legitimate aspirants that lay claim to the succession. The one that should be crowned is a young girl-child named Krushita, daughter of a powerful demi-god named Jarsun. But though she passes the test of fire – which requires placing the baby upon the Burning Throne and letting the throne itself test her with supernatural fire – the elders reject her claim and place her two half-brothers on the throne instead. This infuriates Jarsun, who is already an outcast from the family, and he declares war against the Burnt Empire. The resulting conflict takes up most of the book, with numerous battles, sorcerous attacks and confrontations, culminating in a shocking twist.
DJ: What were some of your influences Upon a Burning Throne and the series?
Ashok: Upon a Burning Throne is an epic fantasy inspired by the ancient Indian epic The Mahabharata. But having said that, let me clarify that it’s not a retelling of the events in that Sanskrit epic. It’s an original work of fantasy that takes inspiration from the myth but creates its own world, characters and culture. It’s nothing like ancient India in many significant ways, and very far removed from present-day America! In short, it’s an original world in which some characters and events appear to resemble the events and characters of the Mahabharata but as you read on, you will soon realise that this is most definitely not the Mahabharata or ancient India, and, Toto, we ain’t in Kansas and we never were in Kansas! If you know the Mahabharata – which is doubtful because there isn’t any unabridged edition of the Mahabharata translated into English – but let’s say you think you know it, well, you’ll be very confused or even surprised, so quite honestly, it’s best read without knowing anything about the source material, just as an original epic fantasy. (There are several teams of scholars that attempted an unabridged translation but all those versions were abandoned unfinished because of the enormous resources required, and those versions that you may read online or the abridged summaries are really not accurate for the most part, so trust me, unless Sanskrit was your mother tongue and you’ve spent your whole lifetime studying the complex nuances of every verse of the millions that make up that labyrinth of inscrutability, you don’t know it. Perhaps nobody truly knows it.) Other influences were Moghul history, and even elements of Egyptian and Asian mythology. But let me be clear, there are no real world parallels to anything in the Burnt Empire series. Even the Indian comparisons would not hold up once you see how the story unfolds and characters develop. I’ve only used those sources as a card intended to mislead readers – to lull you into thinking, oh, so that’s what this is about and this is where it’s going – while pulling a bait-and-switch and taking you in a wholly unexpected direction. Characters who do very bad things may turn out to be heroes in another context, while apparent heroes will be put into some very problematic scenarios. Nothing is what it seems, and anything can happen in the world of the Burnt Empire Saga! Continue reading