Ashok Banker's next, a YA fantasy trilogy, sees the marginalised take centre stage. In an exclusive chat, he tells us why it will hit home
Ashok Banker seems to love the underdog. This becomes evident when the Byculla-born, US-based writer tells us about his just-signed seven-figure book deal for the Young Adult (YA) reader, with Random USA. Titled The Rise Trilogy, the plot is set in the future, in a Panchala - an island kingdom separated by a strait from the continent of Euland. It follows the adventures of a young thief and her gang as they plot to overthrow a tyrant in their democratic world, who suppresses minorities and lower classes and castes. Demons, deities including a transgender god, and tyrannical rulers in a democracy make for a spellbinding saga that Banker is looking forward to. Excerpts from an interview:
What was the trigger for the work? Why a trilogy as opposed to a single title?
The Rise Trilogy features more than a dozen main characters, including the protagonists Brine and Shade, all of whom undergo major life changes, a political revolution that changes the history of the nation of Panchala, and a demon war that threatens the entire world. It's a big story and may well end up taking more than three books once it's told.
Your characters represent LQBTQIA, PoC (People of Colour) and the differently abled. How did you draw inspiration to create them?
As a member of a minority community growing up in India, I had intimate experience of the way minorities are mistreated. Women and girls are by far the worst treated. The central theme of The Rise Trilogy is the struggle for social justice, the fight against oppression by the majority community, against the tyranny of a government supposedly elected via democratic voting but, in fact, no less despotic than a dictatorship. All these themes and characters are drawn directly from the present-day reality of India, which is nothing less than a democratic dystopia!
You've shared that the spirit of the story emerged during the Women's March in the US in January 2017...
Inspiration emerged from many sources over the years: the defiant courage of schoolgirl protestors in Kashmir; the daughter of a brave martyred soldier who protested against war; the persistence of social activists like Medha Patkar and Arundhati Roy. But I always wondered whether anyone would want to read a fantasy series with protagonists like Brine and Shade. When I saw the millions of brave, independent women who thronged the streets of American cities in their pink hats, I saw the women of The Rise Trilogy reflect [in them]. It was an affirmation that I had written something relevant to today's social times as well as a fantasy epic that would endure. When Random House USA made a seven-figure offer for just North American English-language rights within a day of submitting the manuscript, I had my answer. This is a story that resonated with everyone.
Your plot could easily be a reflection of today with many similarities closer home - suppression of democracy, minorities and lower classes. Why set it in a fantasy world?
There is no more effective means of conveying a powerful message than through the medium of story. All my work, whether based on mythology, history or real life, is a continuing effort to reflect social injustices and the fight against oppression.
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