Alex Rutherford’s The Serpent’s Tooth opens like an action thriller. Shah Jahan, who has become the emperor of the Mughal Empire after overcoming all opposition to his claim to the throne, survives another assassination attempt. If it were written in the drab way as in history text books, you will not proceed beyond the first paragraph, maybe not even the first line.
But this stuff is good. Every line conjures an image, every word is a line that joins and jells presenting before us a clear picture: The way the attacker hurls himself at Shah Jahan, his garb, his gait, his build, how the dagger gleamed in the rays of the sun, the emperor’s quick response, his overpowering him… it is as good as you saw the whole thing yourself.
In this book, you will sense the beginning of the fall of the Mughal empire. Shah Jahan, lost in sorrow by the loss of his wife, loses focus and does not see the differences and hatred among his children and by the time he does, it is too late. Aurangazeb rallies his brothers Shah Shuja and Murad, successfully rebels against his father and his brother, Dara Shukoh, the rightful heir — and keeps the curse of the “coffin or throne” alive in the Mughal dynasty. He imprisons his father, murders Murad and executes Dara Shukoh.
One wonders if Dara Shukoh had been emperor… Dara Shukoh is the perfect Mughal prince: intelligent, charismatic and deeply spiritual and tolerant towards other religions. There are many who believed that the reign of Akbar would return had Dara succeeded Shah Jahan. And this is exactly what the bigots of the time did not want, for their powers and influence had considerably weakened during Akbar’s time, who was open to any religion.
The book’s end is full of pathos as Shah Jahan withers from the grief from the death of his sons and the turn of events. The rise and fall is striking, from the warrior prince to the all-powerful emperor to a dying old man whose joy had been robbed by his own offspring.
Name: The Serpent’s Tooth
Author: Alex Rutherford