Last year, Nilanjana Roy made her debut with The Wildlings and immersed us in a fascinating feline tale, starring the cats that inhabit Nizamuddin—a New Delhi colony. There were many memorable characters, Mara—the Sender, spirited Southpaw, Beraal, Miao, Katar and Hulo to name a few apart from non-feline characters like Tooth the kite and Doginder the (bit of a buffoon) dog. The threat of annihilation from the fearsome “ferals” was thwarted, largely through Mara’s powerful magic as a “Sender”, and all was well.
Or so we thought. In The Hundred Names of Darkness, a sequel to The Wildings, a new threat emerges. Now the entire Nizamuddin clan is threatened with extinction thanks to rampant development by Bigfeet (ourselves)—who are building over the cats’ hunting grounds. They must find a new home or perish. And so we meet them again: Mara, the Sender, who has now overcome her fear of the great outdoors, her feisty friend and partner, Southpaw, her once-upon-a-time tutor, Beraal and her kittens Ruff and Tumble and others: As well as some new nasties—bandicoots in this instance.
Roy immerses us effortlessly and lovingly into a feline world, filled with mutual “washing up”, grooming and polite cat etiquette. In form and demeanour her cats are rather British, usually doing the right thing by each other and minding their manners, all very proper and correct (unlike dogs). There are major and minor crises that Mara and Southpaw (and some of the others) have to deal with on the way: Southpaw gets badly injured, Mara gets lost—and Tooth the kite has a problem chick, who refuses to fly. And then there are stories within stories, like that of the wayfaring cat which sets out to find “the cat who lives on the other side of night”, and must guess its name or perish horribly and which (ironically) reminded me of Ratty setting off in The Wind in the Willows!
This tale gives the book its title and the message hidden therein shines through clearly.
There is no doubt Roy really feels for her characters and even a dog-person might be willing to gives cats a chance after reading this book! Her affection for and enjoyment of cats is transmitted lyrically and effortlessly and this is the perfect book to curl up with (perhaps with a cat in your lap!) on a foggy winter morning.
Sequels, unhappily, have congenital limitations. As the main characters are known (to readers of the original), there is usually nothing surprising or new for them to discover here (unless the character undergoes a radical transformation); they come with a built in sense of deja vu. Of course you can—as many readers of The Wildings will—delight in meeting up with old friends again and eagerly wonder what mess they’ve got themselves into this time. But what therefore has to hook you good and proper is the plot.
And in The Hundred Names of Darkness I missed the looming threat of violent and ruthless annihilation that made The Wildings so memorable and kept me glued to the pages. In addition, there was the element of surprise too—the secret weapon—that was unleashed when all seemed lost. In The Hundred Names of Darkness, you can anticipate what’s likely to happen as Mara finally sets off, “linking up” with other “Senders”, leading the Nizamuddin clan in their search for a new home and salvation.
Nilanjana Roy has stated that writing about animals is “much more fun” than writing about humans. That she has enjoyed—and had fun—writing The Hundred Names of Darkness is evident. And that she transmits effortlessly to her readers. So pick it up, and lap it up with all the fastidious dedication—and enjoyment—of a cat at a saucer of milk!