Mahimata: Concludes the ASIANA duology with more questions than answers

Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMahimata by Rati Mehrotra science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMahimata by Rati Mehrotra

Rati Mehrotra follows up her YA debut, Markswoman, with Mahimata (2019), the other half of her ASIANA duology, a bubbling cauldron of fantasy, science fiction, post-apocalyptic Earth, and telekinetic metal forged into guns and swords. Brief, but unavoidable spoilers for Markswoman will follow; I’ll keep them to a minimum.

Kyra, still gravely wounded from her battle with Tamsyn, carries much doubt and anger both as a result of what she learned about Tamsyn during their duel and how Kyra ended that duel. The Order of Kali’s elders have spent the past few months since then in conference, and have arrived at a decision: Kyra will be named Mahimata, the leader of their Order, in accordance with their customs and Shirin Mam’s wishes. But being the youngest Mahimata brings heavy burdens, especially when Kyra questions the wisdom of some of their long-held beliefs and lays down new proclamations, such as when she forbids the hunting and killing of wyr-wolves after meeting with their leader, Menadin.

The wyr-wolves hold their own secrets about how they were created and to what purpose, and could prove to be ferocious allies in the coming war against Kai Tau, whose campaign of terror and destruction only grows more frightening with each new gun his people create. Kyra knows that, to defeat him once and for all, she must remove the source of his power — the kalashiks, made from the same telepathic kalishium ore the Orders spread throughout Asiana use to forge their sacred blades — but how to remove them from the world while ensuring no one will ever re-create them is a question with no easy answers.

Meanwhile, Rustan must follow through on his oath to give up both his commitment to the Order of Khur and ownership of his katari in exchange for Kyra’s life being saved during her duel with Tamsyn, though he’s allowed to maintain possession of his mother’s blade. His wanderings take him to a faraway mountain range, where he hears rumors of a secretive group of scholars who claim to be in contact with Ones, and discovers that an even greater destiny awaits him should he prove worthy enough.

Book 1

Mehrotra does a better job of combining various genre-elements into a cohesive, balanced narrative this time around. The technological capabilities of the Ones, who brought kalishium to Earth and affected various changes to the planet and its inhabitants, are explained a little more clearly and featured more prominently beyond Markswoman’s brief uses of Teleportation Hubs. The wyr-wolves needed more page-time to better explain their significance and why they’re more than the livestock-stealing monsters they’re perceived to be, since they’re obviously not what the average reader will picture when thinking of werewolves (which wyr-wolves resemble, but are distinct from).

There are some glimpses of the world that came before and how the world Rustan and Kyra know came to pass, though I still have some questions about how so much of the world that had been was reduced to a few recognizable personal names (like Elena, Helen, Kyra, etc.), a dozen assault rifles, and place names (Peking, Tashkent, etc.) while evidence of architecture and civilizations from before seem to have been scrubbed clean from the planet.

Mehrotra’s character work remains strong here, especially as she explores the pressures of leadership via Kyra’s attempts to live up to her Order’s expectations, maintain her individuality, learn from some very serious mistakes, and defeat a dangerous foe. And while she does make a lot of infuriating mistakes, the resolutions were generally satisfying. Her interactions with Order members her own age, while infrequent, were some of the best spots in the narrative, and were welcome reminders that Kyra is still a very young and inexperienced person who depends on her peers for assistance and guidance.

Mahimata places a lot of emphasis on honoring history while allowing younger, newer generations to push society forward rather than becoming hidebound by the past. In general, the ASIANA duology has a lot to say against the proliferation and use of guns, to the point where the repetition of ideas I agree with became heavy-handed. I also would have liked to see a stronger acknowledgement that the Orders, themselves, carry lethal weapons which they use freely in the service of what they call justice, and that taking a life with a blade is neither more noble nor less final than with a firearm.

In general, Mahimata suffers from a lack of subtlety. For example, it’s not enough that Kai Tau is a warlord who commits atrocities in order to feed his own bloodlust and quest for power; there’s a late-stage reveal which seems intended to create an additional emotional conflict for Kyra — even though it’s already been established that his troops slaughtered her village and orphaned her, not to mention all of the other deaths and destruction he’s responsible for either directly or tangentially over the decades, so she has more than sufficient reason to rally allies for an epic battle without complicating things further.

Mehrotra does a good job of bringing the primary story arc to a close, and clearly recognizes that the end of a battle doesn’t mean the end of its effects on the survivors, but the last chapter and its final paragraphs brought a number of sudden questions to my mind with no apparent hope of addressing them. It’s not quite a last-minute bait-and-switch, but I did frown and say, “Wait, what?” aloud more often than I was expecting to on the very last page of any novel, especially one which closes a series. It’s almost too bad that Mahimata ends the ASIANA duology, because I could really use more story beyond the novel’s conclusion — maybe not an entire third book, but at least a few more chapters exploring the consequences of Kyra and Rustan’s actions. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Mehrotra will write a follow-up short story revisiting these characters and tying up those surprise loose ends just a bit.

Published in March 2019. A young female assassin must confront the man who slaughtered her family, risk her heart, and come to terms with her identity as a warrior and as a woman in this thrilling fantasy from the author of Markswoman. Kyra has returned to the caves of Kali, but her homecoming is bittersweet. She no longer knows what her place is. Her beloved teacher is dead and her best friend Nineth is missing. And gone, too, is Rustan, the Marksman who helped her train for the duel with Tamsyn–and became far more than a teacher and friend. Shaken by his feelings for Kyra and the truth about his parentage, Rustan has set off on a quest for answers. His odyssey leads him to the descendants of an ancient sect tied to the alien Ones–and the realization that the answers he seeks come with a price. Yet fate has plans to bring Kyra and Rustan together again. Kai Tau, the man who slaughtered Kyra’s family, wages war on the Orders of Asiana. Hungering for justice, Kyra readies herself for battle, aided by her new companions: the wyr-wolves, who are so much more than what they seem. And determined to keep the woman he loves safe, Rustan joins the fight to ride by her side. But will this final confrontation ultimately cost them their love . . . and their lives?

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JANA NYMAN, with us since January 2015, is a freelance copy-editor who has lived all over the United States, but now makes her home in Colorado with her dog and a Wookiee. Jana was exposed to science fiction and fantasy at an early age, watching Star Wars and Star Trek movie marathons with her family and reading works by Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury WAY before she was old enough to understand them; thus began a lifelong fascination with what it means to be human. Jana enjoys reading all kinds of books, but her particular favorites are fairy- and folktales (old and new), fantasy involving dragons or other mythological beasties, contemporary science fiction, and superhero fiction. Some of her favorite authors are James Tiptree, Jr., Madeleine L'Engle, Ann Leckie, N.K. Jemisin, and Seanan McGuire.

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