The Archer’s Heart is posed as an epic tale of avarice, hypocrisy, betrayal, and dishonor, and juxtaposes the injustice of the caste system in a mythical India against the belief that it is God’s intent for those of lower birth to subjugate to their superiors. It’s a country that’s on the cusp of being torn apart by two men who each have claims to the throne. This is a classic story of “a house divided against itself cannot stand”, awash in treachery and the dysfunction of a political and social system that does not abide by the “all men are created equal” belief system. It is a place where the circumstances of one’s birth leaves him impotent against the possibility of ever elevating his position in life, but through the unlikeliest of chances, which certainly was a factor in my sometimes negative reaction to the storyline. Kudos to the author for the gut-check to my conscience, for sure.
At 656 pages, this was a sweeping, if not somewhat unevenly paced saga of privilege and loss. At its barest bones, it is the story of a man, Jandu Paran, 4th in line to the throne, who begins his journey as a spoiled, egotistical royal that is entirely invested in the faith of his superiority over the lower castes. His world is turned upside down, however, when he becomes intimately involved with his cousin, Keshan Adara, a man whose metaphysical prowess allows him to see into the future; he is a man who dreams of a country that one day will see a person for his abilities and what he can contribute to his country, not for the constrictions of his birth. Jandu’s transformation from entitlement to deprivation, as he is stripped of everything, including his identity, as well as Keshan’s downfall and the mutual sacrifices the men ultimately make for the sake of love, provided for a satisfying payoff in the end.
Corruption and dishonor are a way of life for some of the characters in this novel, where a sworn oath, regardless of how wrong that vow is, takes precedence over the guidance of heart and ethics. A man’s birth order dictates his right to rule, even though it supersedes his competence to rule, which lent a good bit of emotional conflict to the story. The author made me loathe quite a few characters in this book, made me hate every single thing they stood for, which isn’t a bad thing at all when considering that any reaction is better than complete apathy. This is a story about changing social consciousness, after all, so it goes without saying there has to be evil for the heroes to defeat.
While there were times along the way that I considered relegating this series to my DNF pile, as the pacing of the narrative suffered under the belief that “more is more” and I found myself wanting to skim, the author would manage to rally and redirect the plot at the last minute and draw me back in.
I didn’t have the strong positive reaction to this novel that others did, but I did end up liking it in spite of some of the things I disliked about it.