The fate of the world rests on the success of a quest undertaken by a team of a Japanese policewoman, an Indian ethnologist and a young Indian mountain guide, assisted in part by a devious Russian geologist.

 

BOOK: Xianqui; AUTHOR: Raghu Srinivasan; PUBLISHER: Hachette India

Raghu Srinivasan is a serving general, and what is quite extraordinary is that he has written not one but two books of fiction in a genre which would put him in the league of Robert Ludlum.  It has been a delight to read his fascinating and riveting books.

His latest offering, Xianqui, is set in 2019 when the temperamental President of the United States of America, facing a tough re-election and playing to populist voter sentiment, has imposed trade sanctions on a belligerent China. Meanwhile, Chinese citizens, reeling from a disastrous economic meltdown, have taken to the streets in revolt. The paramount leader of China, President Wen Hongju, in a departure from tradition, wanting to run for an unprecedented third term, is staring at the bleak prospect of being ousted from power after years of iron rule in the wake of threats both within and without. The leaders of the Party in China decide to initiate military action in the barren disputed Yashi Island of Japan, drawing its rival superpowers Japan and the United States into a conflict that threatens to develop into an all-out nuclear war. As nations across the globe switch to emergency mode, Japanese intelligence reveals that China’s aggression could have been fuelled by a singular circumstance: the development of an anti-radiation vaccine based on ancient tribal knowledge that could tilt military balance in its favour.

But can the mystery of this secret hyper velocity weapon and fiendish vaccine China possesses be unravelled and how can it be stopped? The fate of the world now rests on the success of a quest undertaken by an eclectic team—a Japanese policewoman, an Indian ethnologist and a young Indian mountain guide, assisted in part by a devious Russian geologist—to unravel the only clue they have at hand, buried in a fable from a time long past, when the magic of the shamans guided the rulers of Tibet. The protagonists are now in a race against time and against a ruthless Chinese establishment. The action is undertaken to thwart imminent dangerous political and military developments inimical to Japan and the US and prevent the situation from spiralling out of control.

A sword discovered in an expedition to a remote Himalayan desert region made of an ancient metal with intricate engravings on the hilt; was it “the sword of Dzorpa”; made of iron alloyed with promethium? A vaccine developed through a mysterious tribe that can protect humans from the effects of nuclear radiation, a tribe with linkages across continents, the power of a secret yet powerful Japanese society, the knowledge of Tibetan healers and a forgotten script that holds the key to unlocking many mysteries; all these set your imagination racing and keep you yearning for more as you approach D Day in military fashion.

Developing the characters is another art; fantasy balanced by realism, the power of the Chinese General Shi Luyi; who is obsessed with weapons that target both the body and the mind; but importantly needs to convince the US that these weapons work and most of all the Chinese have the will to use them. The brutality of his female military assistant Go Hai; who derives pleasure from sadism. The serene presence of Rusuban San a Buddhist monk, who is the caretaker of the secret Japanese society operating from the Imperial Palace. The energy, and commitment of an extraordinary Japanese policewoman Susi Mamoto who we first meet at the epicentre of the “Elephant Foot”, the ultimate catastrophe for any nuclear plant and who has been tasked to find the face of the cards held by the Chinese. A Russian geologist Dr Rawinski; with linkages to the powerful Russian mafia Bratva; and then of course the Tibetan magic woman, healer or Shamanka; Angi to whom the God of Death, Mara has spoken. Her grandson, Tashi Nair, the brave Torgut guide of this expedition with his infinite presence of mind when confronted with an adverse situation and finally Anjali Roy, who has specialized in studying the cultures of the world and has the gift of deciphering ancient languages including those not spoken. What is impressive is the way they have all been brought together and the manner in which they complement each other and this is where Raghu’s excellence lies. He is undoubtedly a master storyteller.

The book treats you to geopolitics, suspense, adventure, technology, including decrypting of complex toy languages, science, nanotechnology, mythology, and codes of tribes, ancient fables, history, intelligence agencies, and undercover agents—a mixed brew for the perfect thriller and highlights political strategy at an unbelievable level. A suspense tale of international intrigue that has one spellbound.

The first thing that strikes you when you immerse yourself in the book is the stunning manner in which Raghu has captured the characters and the area in a manner seldom described. In fact his research is so thorough you feel you are reading a piece of nonfiction as he takes you from the icy heights of the Taklamakan deserts to exotic islands in the South Pacific. From Asia to Africa, the reader is taken to many countries, capturing the essence of each location and introduced to the most diverse and interesting characters. You also explore modern science, while simultaneously being exposed to ancient wisdom, while at the same time being exposed to actions not bound by the dictates of morality.

Xianqui means chess in Chinese, but we are being exposed to a variant by three players; the essence of which lies in two of the three remaining stronger and supporting each other, thereby ensuring that the third player cannot attain victory. Or to avoid battle you must make the other two fight. Can the super weapon developed by the Chinese tilt this balance in their favour? The moves of the various characters and the unravelling of the plot with its many twists and turns and fabulous locales leave the reader wondering what the next move has in store. His crusading characters with complete disregard for any personal gains and comfort are locked in a struggle against powerful adversaries whose evil intentions, backed by political and military means, are aimed at altering the world as we see it in a frightening manner. The winner of the game will dominate the world. It is undoubtedly a wonderfully written stunning racy thriller with uncanny resemblance to today’s reality mixed with spellbinding action.

The main challenge to an author of a thriller is the plot and the pace; how to ensure that the reader keeps turning the pages wanting to know what is being offered next; and this is what Raghu has mastered as the characters take shape and the plot unravels. Once you have picked it up it is difficult to put it down and Raghu ensures you remain on the edge of your seat throughout.

Maj Gen Jagatbir Singh, VSM (RETD) is a retired veteran.