JOST A MON

The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Umm Bano is a magician of power and dispenser of supernatural justice on behalf of the Queen of Vijayanagara. That empire, true to its name, has victoriously spread across not only the subcontinent but throughout firang lands. Magic, operating on many levels, is the substrate from which Vijayanagara rules. As a world imperium, it faces not only physical threats but also aetheric ones, from within and from without.

A college of magic has rigorously instructed Umm Bano in the arts dark, defensive, offensive and diabolic. She is deemed Param, a top-flight practitioner. She is assigned bodyguards, magically enhanced supermen. As a woman in the world of the 19th century, she is constrained and denigrated by men. The result is a constant chafing against social strictures that often explodes into Bano's acts of spectacular violence against the enemies of the empire.

Bano is petite, fiery, with a wonderfully acid repartee. She does not suffer fools gladly. She lives in a house secured against all assault, served by a staff of indigents she has saved from evil fates.

She is immensely wealthy, but whether the lucre stems from the royal treasury or is magical in origin is not clear. Her table groans under the finest food. Her dresses are the very latest in fashion.

Other agents secure the empire as well. Logicians such as Archit Bal Khair use their superior deductive ability in detection and counter-intelligence. These people are antithetic to the sorcerous; magic being supremely illogical, it generates visceral reactions amongst these sensitive savants.

Even setting aside the magic and the counter-historical Indian empire, this world is not entirely as we know it. Clever smiths and engineers have wrought cybernetic animals of cunning clockwork and shining metal. The economy runs not only via production and trade and conquest but also by mediating with the magical demimondes. In other ways, it is very of its time. Human rights are often quoted but more often abused. The level of poverty is staggering as is the level of wealth. Petty jealousies among the puissant result in devastation among the commoners.

In the very first tome of books set in this mysterium, The Business of the Steel Naga, Bano is tasked with saving Vijayanagara's logicians. One by one, they're being exterminated. Archit Bal Khair, sinking into despondence following lifelong failures, encounters Bano. Their initial antipathy turns into cooperation and grudging respect as the duo investigates the reasons for the murders and uncovers a conspiracy aimed at overthrowing the rule of Vijayanagara.

The second book, The Business of Visarpa, finds Bano and Khair recovering from their exertions against the mechanicals when a fatal and fiery epidemic explodes across Vijayanagara. In their frantic search for its cause, they uncover yet more discontent and other malicious Params. Bano finds it hard to continue her works while facing constant contempt from the Queen and her family. Her horror at the suffering of the citizenry persuades her to do her best, but will her relations with the Queen be sundered?

The latest book, The Business of Behram, starts with a literal bang, as revolutionaries blow up courts and ruin Khair's sanguinity. Bano goes back to the gutters of her childhood in search of a gruesome serial killer. The victims are all carved up in a strangely ritual fashion. The popular press inflames the populace and sectarian war is only an ember away. Will Umm Bano and Archit Bal Khair manage to stop the murders? And what will the cost be to their friendship?

Lalitha Sen Grover has written quite the trifecta. We cannot wait for the next in the saga of Bano and Khair.

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