The Akkadians of Central Iraq, hungry for new lands to conquer, have set sail for the great cities of Sind, in what is now southern Pakistan. Prince Meluha and his teacher Chandrayaan are out hunting when the invaders launch their assault upon Meluha’s city, and so it becomes the handsome (and quite often shirtless - hell, everyone's shirtless in this thing!) prince’s responsibility to travel to the other Indus Valley cities and rally their rulers to stand together against the hostile armies of Akkadia.
There’s a treasonous minister, a poison ring, a beautiful princess, ambush, and even a dance number, all drawn in a heroic comic realist style, using glowing, brilliant colors–golds, olives, rich purples. Exotically costumed royals and courtiers are distinguished visually by their headgear, hairstyles, jewelry, and facial hair as well as their features and build, giving readers a fighting chance at keeping all the Rajas straight.
The smartly paced story takes an occasional breather so that the travelers have a chance to check out their magnificent surroundings, including the gigantic public baths in Mohenjo Daro and a royal funeral in Harappa. Chandrayaan explains some of the region’s impressive administrative accomplishments to his princely student, injecting this fun story with a little educational content.
An introduction and brief appendix make clear that while much is known about the Indus Valley civilization, much also remains tantalizingly undeciphered, and that this story is fabricated upon the barest frame of known events. It sure would be nice if I could point you to other books about Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro but there just AREN'T NONE. It's very frustrating.
The publisher of this graphic novel, New Delhi-based Campfire, has a big line in adaptations of classic works. I've had to review their versions of The Wizard of Oz, The Three Musketeers, and The Wind in the Willows for SLJ, and I have always found something lacking. The pace or emphasis is off, or the art is kitschy, or the colors are BLINDING (Wizard of Oz). I have wondered if what I perceive as mis-steps may be cultural - if Indian readers appreciate different aspects of those books than do Western readers. I think with this homegrown story, the team that Campfire has assembled is doing what they do best, and I am overjoyed to see it.
In Defense of the Realm has all the drama and excitement of a Bollywood action film in graphic-novel form.
Adapted from my review published in School Library Journal, July 2011