'Mad Sisters of Esi' book review: Fantastically yours

Tashan skilfully intertwines these narratives with her lyrical yet accessible prose.
Tashan Mehta’s 'Mad Sisters of Esi'
Tashan Mehta’s 'Mad Sisters of Esi'(Photo | Amazon)

Rarely does a novel come around that has the power to redefine the boundaries of the fantasy genre. Tashan Mehta’s Mad Sisters of Esi does precisely that. It is a groundbreaking addition, which seamlessly integrates complex narrative structures, profound thematic exploration, and a vividly immersive world.

Set within the cosmic whale of Babel—a universe teeming with mystery—the storytelling follows a non-linear narrative, incorporating diary entries, academic papers and traditional prose. It skates at high speed through various literary forms, making the readers forget that this is, after all, a work of fantasy.

At the heart of the tale are two pairs of sisters—Myung and Laleh, and Magali and Wisa. Their intertwined destinies form the crux. Myung and Laleh, the keepers of the whale, are expressions of contentment and curiosity. The former’s adventurous spirit propels her on a journey across the whale’s cosmic chambers to question the very nature of their existence. This quest mirrors the larger thematic exploration of the novel—the pursuit of knowledge and the questioning of established truths. Laleh embodies a contrasting perspective, highlighting individual desires and existential contentment.

The secondary narrative arc of Magali and Wisa—the titular mad sisters—renders depth to the novel. Their story, set on the shapeshifting island of Esi, delves into the complexities of human relationships and the concept of madness. Tashan skilfully intertwines these narratives with her lyrical yet accessible prose.

The central mystery revolves around the relation between the two sets of sisters and the connection between the whale’s creator, Great Wisa, and the matriarch of the ghosts, Mad Magali. Tashan unfolds a countdown clock, building up ancient secrets, and the concept of a “festival of madness”, which adds layers to the plot.

The novel’s world-building is another of its strengths. Unlike traditional fantasy, which often relies on elaborate magical systems, Mad Sisters of Esi employs an implicit approach. While it renders the author’s world as eerily unfamiliar, the detachment allows us to focus more on the characters’ arcs. Also noteworthy is the exploration of time, memory and reality. Through the Museum of Collective Memory and the concept of the ‘black sea’, Tashan hints that reality is subjective and shaped by individual experiences and memories.

Mad Sisters of Esi is a challenging but rewarding read. By embracing a narrative that defies traditional fantasy norms, Tashan delivers a story that goes beyond the rules of our universe. The novel serves as a reminder that as long as there is internal consistency, fantasy can offer tales of wonder and humanity, which make readers feel and think. It is a literary creation that, once experienced, is unlikely to be forgotten.

Publisher: HarperCollins

Price: Rs 599

Pages: 424

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The New Indian Express