(Image Credit: Vikatan Publications)
The most sedate of the series, Volume 3 methodically and meticulously lays down the platform for its penultimate and ultimate companions. Kolai Vaal (“Killing Sword”), is that ominous portend, the devious and scheming lull before the storm, the clairvoyant of coming events that begin casting their murderous shadows. Vanthiyathevan and Arul Mozhi Varman after a bruising spell in a roiling ocean with mountainous waves and a raging thunderstorm, barely succeed in escaping the wrath of Mother Nature by the skin of their teeth. Clinging on to a piece of wood from the wrecked ship in which Vanthiyathevan was held hostage by the Pandiyan spy Ravidasan and his compatriot, Devaralan, the duo is miraculously rescued by Poonkuzhali who coincidentally happens to undertake a nocturnal sojourn to the middle of the ocean in her modest boat.
Arul Mozhi Varman is however racked by a virulent bout of fever, which has the deadly potential to take the life of the hapless sufferer. At a stage when the very future of the crown jewel in the imperial Chozha Kingdom is imperiled, the resourceful Poonkuzhali, the redoubtable Vanthiyathevan and the reliable Senthan Amuthan (Poonkuzhali’ s relative and admirer), ferry the ailing Prince in secrecy to the sprawling Buddhist monastery, ‘Choodamani Viharam’ situated in the city of Nagapattinam. The chief of the Monastery takes personal care of Arul Mozhi Varman and tends to his distress in an able and adroit manner.
Meanwhile news of the potential disappearance of Arul Mozhi Varman at sea spreads like wildfire and evokes intense emotions and a cathartic vein of sentiments amongst stunned populace spanning Tanjavur, Pazhaiyarai, Kanchipuram, and many other places. A civil unrest of untold proportions is all set to wreak havoc thereby sowing the seeds of discontent and disgruntlement within the Chozha kingdom. Vanthiyathevan has to meet Kunthavai Devi post haste to assure her that her younger sibling is in safe hands and is recuperating from a bout of illness which does not seem as though it would devour the patient.
The maestro that is Kalki now sets not just cats, but also wolves and eagles amongst the pigeons by introducing dizzying twists and turns that would put even the most challenging hair pin bends in a mountainous terrain, to utter disdain! The scheming Nandini Devi, the current princess of Pazhuvoor, and the Queen of Periya Pazhuvettaraiyar intent on decimating the Chozha dynasty by eviscerating the last vestige of its presence, makes a grandiose plan to split the empire into two, an arrangement that would have one half of the land being ruled by the impotent puppet, Maduranthagar and the other half being left under the care of Aditha Karikalan. Her bewitching beauty and venomous entreaties succeed in snaring within their poisonous net the loyalties of both Parthibendiran (a staunch Aditha Karikalan loyalist) and Kandan Maran (the son of one of the Chieftains, Kadambur Sambuvarayar.
Kalki revels in pulling the rug from underneath his reader at the most unexpected of times. Just when the plot is moving at a bucolic pace, the agrestic environment is given a capital shake and a godawful twist. The damning revelations of Maduranthagar about unfortunate events befalling him as a child; the transformation of Vanathi (a close confidante and best friend of Kunthavai Devi) from a cowardly and docile character into a woman of steel; the continuing mysteries shrouding the sudden appearance of a deaf and mute woman aimlessly circumambulating the dense forests of Sri Lanka; and the shenanigans of Vanthiyathevan that are two parts incandescent and one part irritable, all make for some spectacular reading!
It is a widely known and acknowledged fact that the books of the late Robert Ludlum have carved an inimitable niche for themselves in the thriller genre. One reason for such an arresting impression being the astounding array of characters whose unexpected appearances and equally disturbing disappearances (followed by a final discombobulating appearance) makes it both a chore and a pleasure for the reader to keep track of goings on, on a real time basis. The phalanx of characters in Kalki’s magnum opus also dares their reader to pick up the gauntlet of pace. Swift, swashbuckling, serendipitous and sneaky, they appear and disappear in a rush, just like Captain James Kirk and the Vulcan Spock zooming in and out in their starship USS Enterprise, within the blink of an eye!
By the time the covers come down upon Kolai Vaal, an enraptured yet enervated reader is allowed to get the merest of respite for even if he/she were to make a conscious effort to enjoy an elongated break, there is no hope in hell of enjoying such a spell of inactivity, for the spectre of Volume 4 always hangs over the reader’s head like a Damocles Sword, only that the positioning of the reader under the sword is perfectly voluntary!
Volume 4 – Bring it on!