First published in 2014, Last of the Tasburai by Rehan Khan is an epic fantasy novel that combines sword fighting and combat tactics of Samurai with the teachings of Sufi mystics. Tasburai, an order of warriors with near-holy purpose, have now become a tool of oppression under tyrannical regime of Avanist Republic.
Adan, an apprentice of the legendary Tasburai order, is training hard to become an elite warrior in the service of the Avanist Republic. He’s horrified to discover the Republic’s authoritarian leaders are reshaping the Tasburai as a tool of persecution. Innocent people are being imprisoned. He didn’t sign up for this.
Feisty young thief Ylva robs the rich of the walled city of Kronnoburg. She’s helping her father Olaf, one time mercenary, redistribute wealth to the needy. But when she steals a Tasburai sword, her world turns upside down.
Meanwhile, captain Rikard, a lowly commoner, discovers a secret plan by the Avanist Republic to overthrow Kronnoburg. Only nobody believes him, including Princess Elsta, its naïve ruler, who just wants to get married to her dashing prince.
And finally, Tasburai grandmaster Suri-Yi, sword of the Avanist Republic, is trying to become … a better person, which is difficult, considering the Republic has ordered her to export violent revolution. What’s worse, she’s discovered old enemies–the Magrog and their demons–are poised to invade. Suri-Yi needs to unite the Avanist Republic and Kronnoburg against the Magrog. She’s about to drag Adan, Ylva, Rikard, and Elsta into the one thing she does best. Killing.
Nicely Woven Narrative
The story begins with a young apprentice Adan following criminals and catching them finally. The ensuing fight was later joined by Tasburai grand masters Naram-Sin and Suri-Yi where they capture a man wearing metal mask and take him to Oblivion, the dreaded prison of the Avanist Republic. At the same time Ylva, a free-spirited young thief belonging to a large family with Robin Hood’s idea of justice, led defenders of Kronnoburg on a merry chase until deliberately giving up and getting caught.
The subsequent events give the readers insight to the corruption within Tasburai order, the crumbling of Kronnoburg’s ruling elite and pathetic defense, the imperialistic designs of Avanist Republic and valiant efforts of handful of people to avert the upcoming disaster … the return of Magrog. The narrative flow is fluent and story doesn’t break or lead to confusing side stories, allowing the reader to fully enjoy the book which is paced nicely as well. There is nothing out of the box, rather scientifically well crafted story with all the necessary elements, cliff hangers and twists. Good guys going bad, politics and deception, heroic rescue, honor and sacrifice, new world order … all can be found in the book.
Well Developed World
From the walls of Kronnoburg to the dungeon of Avanist, the world in Last of the Tasburai is well built for immersive reading. Although not much descriptive, it is well placed to give a sense of importance and allow readers to imagine it for themselves. That, however, is also a cause of concern because their is a lack of scalability for the reader to compare. How exactly thick are the walls of Kronnoburg, there is no size given or comparison made. Similarly it is often tough to feel how big a place is or how long the boat is to carry so many people.
The areas around the place, such as Duria, need more details. Some of the naming is also borrowed that slightly puts the world off-balance. One part of the world is clearly Roman, another is Indian while the rest is imagined. Avanist, Krokonite, Kronnoburg are all in close vicinity of each other and such strikingly different names do not add up from cultural and linguistic point of view.
Another problem with this world is that barely a generation has passed since the previous war with Magrog. Many people from previous war are still alive such as Suri-Yi, Narem-Sin, Olaf the Generous etc. Within 30 years people do not forget everything. Soldiers don’t lose their fighting abilities completely but near survival makes them appreciate good warrior skills and discipline combat (both completely missing from Kronnoburg that was the center of fight against Magrog). Scary creatures like Xettin and Ifreet do not become fairy tales to scare children especially when people fought them just a couple of decades back. The timeline being explored in the story has these loopholes that make behavior of the current generation quite unrealistic.
Deception, Corruption, Destruction
The corruption within Tasburai order and emergence of more hardliners, the Hawarij, shows the downfall of tolerance and rise of those who lack compassion. The more worldly resemblance can be made with the slow erosion of Sufism and rise of militant Islam in the form of ISIS/Taliban, leading to intolerance seeping within the world that lead to great catastrophes.
The disintegration of morals, as in the case of Kronnoburg’s royalty as well as fighting cadres, also shows downfall of those who forget their past and have no sense of future. This leaves them wide open for not only deception from outside but incompetence from within, losing half the battle before it even begins.
The novel also explores the concepts of Good vs Evil, such as the Good Tasburai and the Bad Tasburai (Demon Blood that takes hold), the Xettin who kill anything that moves, Ifreet that burn their enemies, Magrog that destroy every living form in their way and humans that defend their very existence. Old friends are now enemies and some people that never change. The novel also explores the age-old split personality, often used in both psychological and fantasy/sci-fi genres, where Adan is possessed by alter-ego that loves killing.
Diversity of People
The characters are diverse and both genders are found in strong roles in the novel. Suri-Yi is certainly one of the fiercest fighters in the Tasburai order and as the story progress, her past begins to unravel and she becomes a more real person than the teacher she is. Adan similarly grows but not much compared to Suri-Yi, Princess Elsta and Rikart Navrose. He remains stagnant most of the story until dilemmas begin to grip him and he has to denounce his teacher.
Olaf the Generous is one of the most genuine characters of the novel who steals from the rich and distribute it to the poor. Ylva, his daughter, is similarly well crafted that has taken after him. Adan’s motivation to be the best Tasburai, Naram-Sin’s to bring in new world order and Princess Elsta’s to be the perfect Queen who is married to the perfect King are all realistically crafted.
Words Lack Power
The dialogues have been above average in the story. The internal monologues drag the situation sometimes, at some points the dialogue should have caused a different reaction and some of the words didn’t made sense when used.
For example, in Part 1 towards the end of chapter 11 (confrontation):
“Hawarij,” Said Suri-Yi.
Naram-Sin was silent. He knew of the Hawarij cult as much as she did. Her reluctance to acknowledge them in the temple had been to keep Adan away from this group of renegade Tasburai. Their puritanical literalist teachings seemed attractive to the young, and she had seen many Tasburai ruined by following their way. She didn’t want that future for Adan. The boy was more important than he knew. The order elders had rounded up the previous generation of Hawarij and put them to the sword. The elders had banished their teachings, burned their books, and eradicated their delusional ideology.
“My apprentice and I were attacked by a group of them in the temple this morning,” said Suri-Yi.
“Should I have?”
“The Executioner’s blade was blunt.”
Naram-Sin rose and walked over to her. He stood a nose length away. “It is good to know a Tasburai grandmaster and her apprentice are still a match for eight Hawarij warriors.” He turned away and left the cell, his hand was over the scabbard of his sword, Fire.
Suri-Yi’s eyes narrowed, her gaze following him down the corridor. She hadn’t mentioned how many Hawarij there were.
Considering the fact that Suri-Yi and Naram-Sin were living legends, the greatest warriors in all the lands and survivors of the last Magrog invasion, this exchange does not do justice. The last part should have been reason enough for either Suri-Yi to confront Naram-Sin or simply attacked. Similarly Naram-Sin could not have been stupid enough to blurt out the number of attackers especially when Suri-Yi hadn’t mentioned it.
Such weaknesses in the dialogues have been part of the story though not very many, allowing for relatively peaceful reading.
Last of the Tasburai is a good story for light reading and a break away from traditional fantasy novels. Barring the few shortcomings, it has great characters and the cliff hanger towards the end is good enough to look forward for the sequel.Tags: Book review, Last of the tasburai, Rehan Khan