Friday, March 25, 2016

Book Review: Traitors in the Shadows (Empire of the Moghul series by Alex Rutherford)

This is the sixth book in the series focusing on the sixth Moghul emperor Aurangzeb.

Probably due to troubled childhood of losing his mother Mumtaz at a young age and neglected by his father Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb grew up to be a complex person. He was neither a drunkard nor a womanizer, and his courage in the battlefield and skills in striking the enemy at his weakness were no less than his great grand father Akbar. So under his rule, Mughal Empire expanded consistently. Even after his sixties, he actively led the wars, annexed Golkhonda and Bijapur which were not ruled by Mughals until then.

Aurangzeb was clever and cruel. People either respected him or feared him. He had put most of his enemies to merciless deaths. His main enemy Shivaji died a natural death but his son Sambhaji was killed by Aurangzeb after subjecting him to sever physical torture. He crushed all the rebels including those from his sons. He ruled for five decades until his late eighties. He was in control of his empire till his last day.

Aurangzeb trusted no one completely but he had the finest ability to get into the minds of his enemies. He could guess their moves early and counter them effectively. He lost no war and compromised with no one. After all, he had become emperor after killing his own brothers and putting his ruling father into a confinement. He ruled with an iron bar. His strength came for his beliefs in religion. Being a strict follower of his religion, and turning a blind eye towards other religions and their followers had attracted much enmity. Rajputs, who were long time associates of Mughals from the times of Akbar, turned against Aurangzeb. Jats, Sikhs, Marathas opposed his rule. But Aurangzeb paid no attention to anyone’s advice; he just brushed away the suggestions from his sister not to go against Hindus. He was determined to put his thoughts into action which he believed is good for his kingdom and he even thought that is moral too.

But when death was nearing him, Aurangzeb got into a melancholy. After hearing deaths of his sisters, two sons and a daughter, he realizes that his father would have been in the same situation after failing to win the confidence of his own sons. To avoid the fight among his surviving three sons for his empire, he decides to split the kingdom among them. He dies of old age and ill health far away from his capital, preparing to hear the judgement of the God he believed in.

Getting into the heart of a complex person is not any easy task. But this novel brings the history alive. Unlike the previous books in this series, this book has more details on the preparations for war conquests, strategies, using spies and messengers etc. rather than characteristic details of the protagonist but yet gives no less shape to the person Aurangzeb was.

Alex Rutherford is the pen name of two writers, Diana Preston and her husband Michael Preston. This couple have spent considerable time of their lives into the study, research and getting this series of six books on the Moghul kingdom. And they have shown to the literature world how a historical fiction should be written.