The most interesting thing about The Rise of Sivagami, first of the Baahubali – Before the Beggining trilogy of novels, is that it is poles apart from the movies in practically all aspects. It just takes 3 characters from the movie and takes you through a journey of its own.

Anand Neelakantan, the author for the trilogy novel, is an acclaimed mythology novelist down south. There’s little doubt why Rajamouli must have chosen this man to write this series. But that past experience would not make up for the immense pressure and anticipation fans of Baahubali would have had for the book.

It is thus even more surprising how Anand did not try to cater to the fans and give what the Baahubali films are known for. He rather creates a world that is far more believable and far more brutal.

The kingdom of Mahishmati is no Ram’s Ayodhya, we know that. We have seen slaves being beaten up during Bhallaladeva’s ruling. We have seen the way lower castes are treated during Amarendra’s growing years. We have also seen how people like Bijjaladeva hold power and abuse it. The story here in the books makes us believe that the situation was even worse before King Amardeva (Amarendra’s father) ruled. The gamble of power and hunger for money loomed even large.

The story is grim and dark, meant for adults who can digest that. If you look beyond, you will find a plot that is heavy on intrigue and thrill. The title may be named after Sivagami, but there are a huge chunk of other characters who play pivotal roles in the plot. Almost all of them are well edged and are brought in the story for a reason (some of whom might find the reason in the novels to follow). There is no simple broad brushes of black and white, good and evil to those characters. All of them are carefully painted with numerous shades of grey.

The author knows what the fans of movies are waiting curiously for, and he often plays with our curiosity, making us feel that we are on a verge of getting critical question answered. Alas, he smartly backs off soon. The three characters taken from the films – Sivagami, Kattappa and Bijjala are at the centre of everything. While Sivagami certainly has the best character arc as she starts off with hating the kingdom as a whole, characters introduced into the books like Skandadasa (the prime minister), Prince Mahadeva (Bijjala’s younger brother) and Shivappa (Kattappa’s younger brother) are well edged and makes us root for them too.

Just months ago, having our own phenomenon like Game of Thrones, capturing the interests of a whole nation seemed like a distant dream. While the movie pushed boundaries with its visual mastery, its book is not far behind in matching the quality of storytelling that the series offers. It being rooted neck deep in Indian culture makes it all the more relatable and interesting. Where else would you find character names like Gundu Ramu and Achi Nagamma?

What the book falls short of is vivid description of the setup and action. The fight sequences depicted are good at best. The places that it explores doesn’t resonate with the imagery that the movies have left us with. But the fact that the book is very plot-heavy makes us forget such drawbacks. And that sure doesn’t take away the “must-read” tag it has gained.

The Rise of Sivagami is a stellar start at the expansion of our very own MCU – Mahishmati Cinematic Universe. Every Baahubali fan out there won’t be disappointed with the book!