Shelly Sharma’s debut anthology comprises nine stories. Many of these tales are about women, the wrongs they are subjected to, and the ways in which they try to right their wrongs. In the author’s words, Equality is a cruel word. Put Adam on one scale and Eve on the other, and you have a story to tell.
The first story is also the titular one-When Devil married God. It is set against the backdrop of mountains and begins with the promise of a love story that develops into a thriller, culminating in an unexpected twist. The pace is intriguing, and the plot keeps the reader on tenterhooks. That way this isn’t your conventional whodunit – it has elements of paranormal, and a family legend that chills and thrills at the same time.
The Queen of Mourning is a very poignant and hard-hitting tale. It questions the injustices meted out to a middle-class daughter-in-law till it pushes her over the edge literally and figuratively. What is different about this one? The female protagonist’s voice, which sadly is heard more in her head than aloud. I loved the observations the central character makes. ‘The magic of conditioning runs in the psyche of the female gender.’
The brackets were a trifle distracting, but the statements? One hundred percent true.
The Witch of Mother Lake was gripping and narrated in a raw and rugged fashion. This third story in the anthology tugs at your heartstrings. A dash of supernatural centred around folklore and a tiny village steeped in tradition form the setting for this story. The author highlights the whims and fancies of a man with a roving eye and underlines the consequences borne by his hapless wife. The way the narrative unfolds, never slowing its pace, makes this one unputdownable.
Heartbeat is based on an interesting and unconventional premise. There were some clues initially that gave away the grand reveal but still made for an interesting read. This is one story where the narrator /protagonist is not a woman but a young man, with all the brashness of youth. When realization finally dawns upon him, it is too late.
Legend of the mangrove jungle is centred around the Goddess who rode a tiger, a woman who rose above her circumstances to deliver justice. The author paints a vivid story on this canvas, one that is gory in parts but abounds with retribution and redemption. I found this story metaphorical and rejoiced when the female Goddess figures sought retribution.
Measuring pure love is an intriguing tale that comes with an unexpected twist. In the author’s words, love is a funny thing; its eternity is a default unvoiced agreement between the ones that share it. This story describes love and the accidental bonds it forges, that may have devastating consequences later on.
The Taming is a story that follows an unconventional execution that gives two alternate endings. One which is gory and gruesome, but realistic and aligns with societal expectations. The second possibility is the victory of good over evil, where the protagonist succeeds in her mission, but sadly is still part of a fantasy.
The God that failed is poignant and hard-hitting. This is a harrowing tale of domestic abuse and the impact it has on the hapless children of the house. The author depicts this with much-needed sensitivity as the children struggle to save their mother from their alcoholic father. A tale that gets you thinking and wishing that God didn’t let down these tender hearts.
The Crescent and the Star is a story of a woman coming to terms with her own sexuality and rediscovering herself in the process.
This anthology is high on emotions. The characters and try to deal with the challenges life throws at them in their own ways- be it rebellion, or silent endurance. The stories are realistic and mature and not for the faint-hearted as they hit you hard. The highlights of this book are its pace, its twists, and satirical narrative. It questions stereotypes and makes you uncomfortable. This is the kind of discomfort that ushers in much-needed change.
At the end of the day, it makes you wonder, in any relationship, who is the Devil? Who is God? And is any balance ever possible between the two?
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