River of Ink by Paul M. M. Cooper
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Release Date: 28th January 2016.
In thirteenth-century Sri Lanka, Asanka, poet to the king, lives a life of luxury, enjoying courtly life and a sweet, furtive love affair with a palace servant, a village girl he is teaching to write. But when Magha, a prince from the mainland, usurps the throne, Asanka’s role as court poet dramatically alters. Magha is a cruel and calculating king–and yet, a lover of poetry–and he commissions Asanka to translate a holy Sanskrit epic into the Tamil language spoken by his recently acquired subjects. The poem will be an olive branch–a symbol of unity between the two cultures.
But in different languages, in different contexts, meaning can become slippery. First inadvertently, then deliberately and dangerously, Asanka’s version of the epic, centered on the killing of an unjust ruler, inspires and arouses the oppressed people of the land. Asanka must juggle the capricious demands of a king with the growing demands of his own political consciousness–and his heart–if he wishes to survive and imagine a future with the woman he loves.
The first novel from a remarkable young writer, River of Ink is a powerful historical tale set in the shadow of oppression–one with deep allegorical resonances in any time–celebrating the triumph of literature and love.
Book Review ~ ‘River of Ink’ by Paul M. M. Cooper ~ 5 Stars!
‘River of Ink’ is without a doubt one of the cleverest books I have ever read. Not in a showy or flashy way, but through its simplicity which speaks volumes.
I was drawn into Asanka’s story straight away. Although not a period of time, or a location that I am overly familiar with, Paul M. M. Cooper did a fantastic job at setting out the scene without info-dumping, and I felt very much at home there, feeling the heat on my skin, and the fear in the air. It was though our introduction to Asanka, the court Poet, that made me aware of just how special this book was going to be. Asanka is in no way a hero, which sets him apart from other leading characters in literature. He is a normal man, fearful, in love, riddled with issues and above all else, at times cowardly, something to which he readily admits. Already I felt a connection to him as the protagonist for our story. He was real.
‘River of Ink’ is written almost in the form of a love letter from Asanka to his lover, a serving girl Sarasai, a love for which he bases most of his decisions and choices throughout the novel. This is another reason that the novel felt so clever to me. It foreshadowed so much of the later story in such a simplistic way that it kept me on tenterhooks throughout! Asanka’s lengths to protect Sarasai from the new King, and his desperation to prove his worthiness to her by meddling with the translations of the King’s stories, is what leads us to seeing his amazing development, whilst still remaining the same old Asanka at heart.
This is a beautifully written debut from Paul M. M. Cooper, and is worth every one of the five stars I rate it as. It is a story of love, freedom and strength, that is set in a historical time that was well-researched and brilliantly portrayed.
*Review copy was kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest Waterstones Bookseller Review*
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Paul M. M. Cooper.