Palace of Assassins by Aditya Iyengar
Palace of Assassins by Aditya Iyengar begins with what happened post the Mahabharata war with the forgotten anti hero/villain Ashwatthama. He has been one of the most misunderstood characters of the Mahabharata and very little is known of his story after being cursed by Lord Krishna. What we know from the epic is that Ashwatthama who committed the heinous crime of killing the Pandava children in their sleep was cursed to roam the earth forever and his body would be covered by sores.
As per Hindu mythology there are eight immortals (chiranjeevis) who still live on earth for various reasons. Most of these are blessed. But only Ashwatthama is cursed with immorality. The tragic story is captured quite well in this book which portrays him neither as a hero or a villain but as a troubled soul trying to find ways and means to end his miserable existence. The story goes forward and he tries to exact revenge on the pandavas with the help of a band of warriors called the Samsaptakas. They have also been wronged by the Kuru race and they are also looking for revenge. The book deals with a lot of magic which exists in the form of nature in the world called as tatva and there are magicians called tatva karman who use magical stones to imbue fantastic powers. It's with these powers that Ashwatthama believes he'll kill the Pandavas and restore to being a mere mortal so he can die and be rid of his leprosy.
The story is filled with fantastic sequences visually enriched with incredible narratives. It also has a love story in the form of Kasturi who takes care of him to regain strength. While the story progresses smoothly I found a certain lack of character arc of Ashwatthama. He remains bereft of strong emotions which is unusual given the trying circumstances that he finds himself in.
Ashwatthama was a Maharathi (A warrior who has mastery in all forms of weapons and combat. Capable of fighting numerous multiple warriors simultaneously.) This arc is never explored and he is constantly shown as a weakling. Though there are philosophical sayings in the book and it deals with mindfulness and breath Ashwatthama doesn't seem to use them wisely.
I would have also loved to see a dialogue between Ashwatthama and Lord Krishna where he accuses the Lord of using deception and guile to kill all the heroes of the Kauravas from Duryodhan to Bhishma to Dronacharya to Karna. Ashwatthama's own father Dronacharya was killed by a lie uttered by Yudhisthir and Krishna engineered it. The book could have explored this disturbing duality of truth and lies, right and wrong.
Over all the book is interesting in parts and gets boring in certain places. Read it if you're a fan of the anti hero and the epics.