Tantra is a magical fantasy novel written by Adi, about whom not many details are given in the "About Author" section of the book. The only personal detail in it is about his passion for reading novels late night and that this habit has to be given the credit for this debut novel. Also the title of the book, Tantra was a of turn off as I myself come from an ancient Malayalee Brahmin (Nambudiri) family of Thantris and has heard lot of ancient magical stories about magicians, imps and evil rituals performed for gaining unlimited power from grandmothers and grandfathers while growing up. Tantric stories are also a main part of Malayalee popular culture spawning several novels like Kalika, Surya Kalady and movies like Anandabhadram and Adharvam. So Tantra had a lot of expectations to fill and the back cover synopsis that told the background of the lady protagonist as a vampire slayer did not help either.
But Tantra exceeded my expectations thanks to the very good characterization of the protagonist, Anu Aggarwal and the breakneck speed it adopted after the first 100 pages. Tantra tells the story of Anu, who is a trained vampire killer in New York working for an organisation known as Centre. Her boyfriend Brian is killed and the only clue points to someone from Delhi. She gets herself transferred to Delhi without informing her superiors that vengeance is her agenda. But once in Delhi, soon she gets herself dragged into a whirlpool of much bigger events for which her training and experience in New York is not sufficient. Kids get kidnapped and murdered, her own colleagues have made pacts with the vampires, someone is accumulating a massive amount of power in the city threatening the lives of innocents, she has to master an ancient weapon in days to prevent it from happening and above all her nosy aunt is desperately trying to get her married.
Actually the first hundred pages were a bit baffling. I had a tough time deciding what exactly was happening. Here was something that started like a teenager fantasy about vampires, progressing as a subtle allegory about cultural differences between east and west and culminating as a thriller mystery involving exotic Tantric rituals with some standard elements of chick-lit thrown in here and there. (And I had an issue initially with the name of Indian vampires- it’s tough to think a blood sucking creature with the name Mishra..) But as the story progress, the focus becomes clearer. Still what I felt as the initial hiccup has served the purpose of the etching the character of Anu deep into the story thus helping the reader to identify with her actions and motives at a later stage.
Like many of the thrillers that I read recently Tantra suffers a bit from lousy characterization of sub characters. There are many characters inhabiting the pages, but barring Amit, Anu’s colleague and Nina, her aunt, I feel are mostly cut-outs. This was unsatisfying because there were many important people who could have been made more interesting like Dr Sharma or Chandra. Also one of the major mysteries that I was waiting to find out was never revealed in the end. Hopefully Adi is working on a sequel which will unravel that.