In sixteenth century South India, Rajanna, the seventy-year-old patriarch of the majestic Madhuvana estate, has died. An archaic ritual of sati is encouraged by the elders, and Rajanna’s widows are expected to be cremated alive. But Aadarshini, Rajanna’s third wife, and mother of his heir, refuses to die. The twenty-two-year old escapes in a quest to take control of her own destiny. She must survive and find her young son who was separated from her during the botched escape, and she must find a way to regain the estate that is rightfully her son’s. But with no one to trust, and danger at every turn, her odds are slim. In this thrilling historical novel, the lives of many will forever be changed, and no one can predict the outcomes.
With “Nights of the Moonless Sky,” Vishwanath hopes to enthrall readers with a well-told thriller, and spark their interest in historical fiction from South India
Exploring the intricacies of the historic empire of Vijayanagara, Vishwanath creates an immersive story filled with vibrant details of daily life, from a message system that stretches across the Empire to traveling theater troupes complete with made-up boys in the role of a monkey army as they perform the Ramayana. Front and center, though, is the drama of succession. Alternating chapters show the perspective of the treacherous priest Prabhakara Swami as he and Aadarshini engage in a deadly game of cat and mouse for control of the estate. Much of the plot depends on near-misses and mistaken identities, which at times stretch credulity–Aadarshini initially seeks Prabhakara Swami for aid, only to pass him unrecognized on the road; Azam Khan delays his journey by a single day and arrives to find his village in ashes. While sometimes over the top, the story generates a compelling tension that will keep readers hooked.
Aadarshini is a captivating protagonist whose growing strength and ruthlessness is tempered by her love for her son and for the bodyguard Azam Khan. Torn between love and duty, the doomed romance brings a tenderness to an otherwise brutal sequence of events. Emotional, tense, and richly detailed, this dramatic thriller presents a microcosm of larger historical events.
Takeaway: Fans of historical political dramas full of powerful women will love Aadarshini's arc as she grows into her fierceness.
Great for fans of: Philippa Gregory’s White Queen, Indu Sundaresan’s The Twentieth Wife.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
N. S. Vishwanath’s Nights of the Moonless Sky is a tale of duty and desire, of villainy and heroism, and of fate and faith, steeped in the history of the 16th century Vijayanagara Empire in India. Its central character, Aadarshini, begins the story as a child bride and emerges as a woman warrior. Rebelling against tradition and realizing that “men had always taken control of her destiny,” she forges a new path for herself, breaking barriers and blundering at times, but in the end, demonstrating dignity not just as a woman but as an extraordinary human being. At once sensual and action-packed, the novel is a fast-paced story set in a world where promises are made not kept, where fierce passions challenge concepts of honor, and where deep treachery is always lurking. Nights of the Moonless Sky stands as a powerful celebration of perseverance and the resiliency of the human spirit.