Brothers At War

Canberra Times Reviews ‘The Serpent’s Tooth’



Empire of the Moghul: The Serpent’s Tooth. By Alex Rutherford. Headline. 421pp. $29.99.

History’s most dysfunctional dynasty returns in the fifth book in the Moghul series. In 1628 Shah Jahan is crowned the new Moghul Emperor. Tragedy soon strikes when his beloved wife dies. Consumed with grief, Jahan constructs the Taj Mahal as a monument of his love. Distracted, he fails to notice the conflict in his family as his sons begin a bloody war for the throne. Rutherford’s fifth book once more combines the glittering details of Moghul court life and the savagery of their culture. Family dynamics are closely explored and provide a chilling insight into how the Moghul family frequently turned on each other. Vividly descriptive, Rutherford provides an extensive look at a proud nation and their deadly rulers.


Brothers At War

‘The Serpent’s Tooth’ Launches in India – Review in ‘Postnoon’

 | June 22, 2013 |


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

Pages: 398

Publisher: Hachette



CategoryArts & EntertainmentBooks

Brothers At War

‘Raiders From the North’ – Where it all began ….

Delighted to see from India Today that people still like reading about Babur. Last year I returned to his homelands in Central Asia and spent time in fabulous Samarkand where his ancestor Timur’s buried.


May’s 20 Bestsellers Books

   1    2    3    4    5    6    7    8    9    10    11    12    13    14    15      

Eighth place is held by Alex Rutherford’sEmpire of the Moghul: Raiders from the North. Published by Headline Review/ Hachette India is available for Rs. 495 / 299. This book was ninth position last month.
Brothers At War

Researching The Serpent’s Tooth


Only a few more days to go and The Serpent’s Tooth comes out … Going to the places associated with its story – the love between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz and the tragedy that overcame them – was unforgettable. Imagine a moonlight garden planted with creamy, fragrant, night-flowering blossoms. Water ripples along marble channels and over waterfalls lit by oil lamps flickering in niches behind the veils of water. Plumes of spray from fountains create a cooling mist in the warm air of an Indian night. At the far end of the garden, a vast lotus-carved octagonal pool overlooks the broad curve of the Jumna River. The pool captures a perfect reflection of a perfect building just over the river – the Taj Mahal.


The Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan laid out this garden – the Mahtab Bagh – over 350 years ago. On moonlight nights he arrived by boat from the nearby Agra Fort to wander among the groves of trees. From a marble pavilion at the edge of the octagonal pool he gazed at the melancholy beauty of the Taj Mahal itself – or at its silvered reflection in the water. As he gazed, he remembered his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, ‘Chosen One of the Palace’ who had died aged thirty-eight giving birth to their fourteenth child and was buried in the Taj – the luminous tomb he had created for her.


For many years this garden lay forgotten, its pools and pavilions crumbling beneath layers of silt. Then, in the 1990s archaeologists uncovered evidence that it was designed as an integral part of the Taj Mahal complex. Today the gardens are open and just a short boat ride across the amber-coloured Jumna from the Taj to the opposite shore where wading birds pick daintily among the reeds and small boys play cricket with makeshift bats.


Though the garden’s pools and water channels are empty, you can picture how they looked in Moghul times. Conservationists have planted 10,000 trees and shrubs, including the richly scented white champa – a member of the magnolia family that blooms at night – and the flowerbeds are again a vivid, jostling mass of nasturtiums, pansies, marigolds and stocks. It’s aserene place from which to contemplate the Taj and sense the feelings of love and loss that created it.


The Agra Fort was, of course, the setting for Mumtaz’s brief, happy years as empress – Shah Jahan only ascended the throne three years before her death. I walked up the steep ramp that leads through a soaring red sandstone gateway above which kettledrums once boomed to herald the arrival of the emperor aboard his imperial elephant. With its one and a half miles of dragon’s teeth battlements, turrets and sheer seventy feet high walls, the first impression is of a great fortress built for strength not luxury as indeed it was – by Shah Jahan’s grandfather Akbar. However, the hugely wealthy and equally aesthetic Shah Jahan remodelled the imperial apartments, creating a suite of airy white marble pavilions overlooking the river.


In them, Shah Jahan and his empress lived a luxurious life, bathing in marble bathhouses or hammans flowing with rosewater and eating from jade dishes. – (The jade had a practical purpose too. It was supposedly an antidote to poison). When Shah Jahan, ablaze with gems, dispensed justice to his subjects in his pillared chamber of public audience, an equally glittering Mumtaz watched from behind a carved purdah screen. The riches of an emperor whose treasuries were piled with rubies, emeralds and sapphires and who commissioned the golden Peacock Throne to showcase his choicest gems stunned European visitors to Agra. A French doctor, allowed into the harem to treat an inmate, wrote that it was impossible to find his patient’s pulse because of the ropes of gems coiled around her arms.


The Agra Fort reminds us that by the end of his life Shah Jahan had lost not only Mumtaz but also his liberty. His son Aurangzeb deposed him and confined him in the very apartments he had built. They made an exquisite prison. Wandering through them I marvelled at the colours of the flowers inlaid into the white marble that are as vivid as when the craftsmen first sliced the leaves and petals from semi-precious jewels. The marble floors and pillars are cool to the touch. Sunlight filters through thin, flower-painted marble panels that soften its harshness to a subdued radiance.


Loveliest of all is the bronze canopied octagonal tower where a fluidly carved, marble pool fills the centre of the floor and sculpted friezes of swaying irises and yet more jewelled flowers overlay walls and pillars. The ageing emperor may have taken comfort from the supreme artistry but most important of all, from this tower he could see the Taj Mahal floating mirage-like beyond the ox-bow bend in the Jumna.


The nearby mausoleum of Mumtaz’s Persian grandfather Itimad-ud-Daulah and his wife, completed in 1628 just four years before work on the Taj began, is a delicate jewel-box of a building. Though much smaller and different in shape to the Taj, it’s also clad in gleaming white marble and its walls and floors are intricately inlaid with polished semi-precious stones – cornelian, lapis lazuli, jasper, onyx and topaz.


The much grander tomb of Shah Jahan’s grandfather Akbar, five miles northwest of Agra at Sikandra and completed in 1612, also evokes the Taj. Set within a vast walled garden inhabited by deer, monkeys, squirrels and screeching green parakeets, it lacks the Taj’s grace and symmetry but I think the architect combined ox-blood sandstone and milky white marble to striking effect.


It’s clear from many accounts that the Taj’s perfection fascinated people from the very moment it was created – and it still fascinates. However familiar the image, how ever many times you visit it, as you walk through the red sandstone gateway and see the pale mausoleum float into view, something catches in the throat. It’s impossible not to marvel at the faultless symmetry, the shining white marble, the swelling teardrop dome and not to be moved. One female visitor told her husband ‘I cannot tell you what I think for I know not how to criticise such a building, but I can tell you what I feel. I would die tomorrow to have such another over me’. Sitting in the Mahtab Bagh towards sunset, watching purple shadows steal over the Taj as the sweetness of champa flowers perfume the soft evening air I found it hard not to agree.

Brothers At War

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose, Hindustan Times
March 09, 2013


What is historical fiction?
A historical fiction society website says, “To be deemed historical, a novel must have been written at least 50 years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).” Writer Sheba Karim (whose forthcoming novel revolves around Razia Sultan) describes them as “novels set in a past time period, which feels different from our own in terms of aspects like technological advancement, scientific understanding, political systems and modes of transport so that the author must include rich, descriptive detail to give the reader a strong sense of time and place.”

The scene in India
In Britain, it is a hugely successful genre, spawning an association, awards and wide acclaim. Jenny Barden, author and organiser of the Historical Novel Society (HNS) conference held in London in September 2012, comments that of the 13 titles longlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2011, more than half were in some sense ‘historical’. Of the six titles recently shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2012, four were historical. Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall won the Man Booker Prize in 2009 and last year, the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, won the prize again. Now, the historical fiction genre is doing well here too.

Diana Preston One half of the husband-wife team behind the Empire of the Moghul series says the conflicts of the Mughals’ lives caught their imagination. “And historical fiction offered the best scope for conveying that excitement.”

The Grand Mughals
Alex Rutherford’s Empire of the Moghul series has also been a big success in India. ‘Alex Rutherford’ is the pseudonym of husband-and-wife team, Diana and Michael Preston.  “We chose to fictionalise the story of the Mughal emperors after reading the source material beginning with The Baburnama – the first biography in Islamic literature – through to the court chronicles of the later emperors,” wrote Diana in an email. “The conflicts of their lives caught our imagination and historical fiction seemed to offer the best scope for conveying the excitement of what happened, since the it offers greater freedom to create dialogue, explain motivation, interpret silences in the sources than non-fiction.” According to the Rutherfords, one of the great pleasures of historical fiction is delineating the characters. “What caught our attention particularly was how the Mughal dynasty, outwardly so opulent and successful, carried the seeds of its own destruction within it. Their tradition – brought with them from West Asia – was for familial rivalries expressed in their saying ‘taktya, takhta’, ‘throne or coffin’. The Mughals’ greatest enemies were not their external foes but each other. Exploring their jealousies and feuds was absorbing.”

From HT Brunch, March 10

Brothers At War

The Telegraph, Calcutta, January 2013 – The Serpent’s Tooth is Coming!


Hachette also has a big haul for book lovers this year. For one, it has a roster of page-turning thrillers, science fiction and fantasy, crime fiction and even erotic fiction. A biggie will be the fifth instalment of the historical fiction, Mughal series by Alex Rutherford (pen-name for authors Diana and Michael Preston). Empire Of The Moghul: The Serpent’s Tooth, will make it to bookstores by May 2013.

Brothers At War

Tribune 2012 Yearend Special – The Tainted Throne

Sunday, December 30, 2012



Reading in the e-Book Age
It was a year with many good books, and with the introduction of Kindle store in India, a number of Indians started reading e-books
Roopinder Singh

WHAT do you say about the year in which the blockbuster, the world over, including in India, was an erotic book which left critics’ search for literary merit largely unfulfilled? You may hope for a better one down the list, only to find out that the other bestsellers that followed were part of the same trilogy.

You may recall that British author E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, the erotic novel set largely in Seattle, USA, and Fifty Shades Darker, the second volume, were both published in 2011. His Fifty Shades Freed, the third part of the series came out at the beginning of 2012. Yet they dominated the sales charts, and presumably minds of the readers, most of them women. The books are erotic, and feature elements of sexual practices that have drawn ire of women’s rights groups, as well as many conservative people.

It was also the year we got an account of a life transformed by a fatwa, of how Salman Rushdie made himself invisible as he lived under police protection. India had banned his bookThe Satanic Verses, and many other countries followed suit. Then came the fatwa by Iran, and Rushdie’s life was in peril. His latest book, Joseph Anton describes Rushdie’s life in hiding. It received mixed reviews, but flew off the shelves at a steady nip.

Yes, this was also a year of masterly exploration of the lives of the people we render invisible all too often, poor people. Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity,deservedly won accolades.

Young writers had their say. One of the youngest Sahitya Akademi award winners, Rupa Bajwa explored middle class lives in her Tell me a Story, with empathy and understanding. Ravinder Singh continued his bestselling run with Can Love Happen Twice? and Palash Krishna Mehrotra’s Butterfly Generation created waves.

Pankaj Mishra’s cerebral From the Ruins of Empire: the Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asiamade had much food for thought; Gurcharan Das’s readable India Grows at Night stressed on what he had said earlier; Shashi Tharoor managed not to get into trouble with his Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century, even as Stephen P. Cohen explored The Future of Pakistan.


A Soldier’s General: An Autobiography by General J.J. Singh evoked interest in military circles; M.K. Kaw’sBureaucrazy gets Crazier: IAS Unmasked was picked up by many and Ravi Subramanian’s The Bankstersold well; whereas the bestselling spot again went to Chetan Bhagat, this time for his non-fiction book What Young India Wants.

For lovers of historical fiction, the prize, yes the Booker, went to Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, while many in India curled up with Empire of the Moghul: The Tainted Throne written by Diana and Michael Preston who use the pen name Alex Rutherford.

It was a year with many good books, and with the introduction of Kindle store in India, a year in which a number of Indians started reading e-books.

The new year will bring new releases, new fare to chose from as well as new ways to read books, thanks to the growing number of e-books not only available in India, but also books by Indian writers published from India.

Reading is here to stay, although many people now read on the screen rather than from the page.



Brothers At War

Empire of the Moghul series to extend to sixth novel

Conjurers of Moghul zenanas and battlefields

By Deepshikha Punj

14th October 2012 12:00 AM

  • After studying at Oxford together, Diana and Michael got married. The keen travellers, as they are, then had come to India for their honeymoon.
    After studying at Oxford together, Diana and Michael got married. The keen travellers, as they are, then had come to India for their honeymoon.

It’s a beautiful weather today, but rather windy, don’t you think?” asks author Diana Preston as she smiles and poses for the camera. The simplicity of the celebrated author — she and her husband Michael Preston write jointly under the pseudonym of Alex Rutherford — doesn’t miss us in the glitzy surrounding of the hotel. The couple are on a three-week tour of India and have plans to know what is still unknown to them. “We are taking our friends around and have already visited the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur. We are now heading to Bagdogra, Sikkim, Darjeeling and then Kolkata,” Diana reveals.

After studying at Oxford together, Diana and Michael got married. The keen travellers, as they are, then had come to India for their honeymoon. “Our greatest love is India where we’ve spent at least two years of our lives. Our research into the building of the Taj Mahal for our non-fiction book A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time, led us to explore the early history of the Moghul dynasty that built the Taj,” says Diana who alone interacts with the media. “To understand the minds of the founders of the Moghul dynasty for our fiction quintet Empire of the Moghul, we’ve read all the chronicles of the time. And while we were researching, we realised what amazing personalities they all were, and had the most extraordinary stories associated with each of their reins. We wanted to fictionalise their lives and get into their heads, so to speak,” she adds.

Diana recalls how it all began when they retraced the steps of the Moghuls, from the Ferghana Valley in Kyrgyzstan — home to the first Moghul emperor, the boy-king Babur, to Iran, to the blue domes and minarets of Samarkand in Uzbekistan, across the red deserts to the Oxus River, over the Hindu Kush to Kabul and Afghanistan, and down through the Khyber Pass to the plains of northern India. The characters in the chronicles, and their stories in particular, excited the couple’s imagination. “There are lots of universal themes running through. There is ambition, love, passion and envy… almost everything. I personally liked Babur for his visceral energy and sheer guts. And even though he was knocked back so many times in his life, he never gave up. On the other hand, I find Akbar to be very attractive. He was more multi-faceted than Babur and was a warrior. He did well for his subjects. But the one who really struck me was Noor Jahan. She was a strong woman in an essentially male-dominated world,” Diana believes.

Their writing process has been simple. Diana says: “At the beginning of the series we had a detailed structure of what would happen in each book. We would talk about our ideas on  each of the characters. Michael would work on the battles, and I would probably work on the dialogues. We made sure we wrote on every page… someone wrote bigger portions and someone smaller.”

Though they started working on the Empire of the Moghul quintet, the couple recently decided to write Aurangzeb’s story as well. “When we started going around India on publicity tours, and when we started the website, 80 per cent of the comments were about when we would come out with a book on Aurangzeb. When we started to work on our fifth book, which should be out next year, we thought that he plays a very central role… the feud with his brothers, the way he imprisons his father to occupy the throne… The more we thought about it, we realised that even though he was a controversial character, he was the last of the great Moghul emperors.”

So how will their Aurangzeb be? Diana says even though she has a picture of how Alex Rutherford will present Aurangzeb, time will give them more researched material on this divisive character. And as they give themselves two years to research and write, the author couple are, as of now, travelling around the country to write travel pieces.


Alex Rutherford to write book six in the bestselling Empire of the Moghul series

Press Release from Hachette India:

Hachette India is delighted to announce that the brilliant Empire of the Moghul series will now include a sixth book based on the life and times of Aurangzeb. Alex Rutherford, the author of one of the largest selling series in the India, will be writing the sixth book after all,  to the delight of the legions of fans who had been requesting the author to write this book for a long time now, and complete the series with the last of the ‘great Mughals’ who played such an important role in defining the face of Indian history. The Empire of the Moghul series has been a critical and commercial success in India and the new book will no doubt be another blockbuster.

Reviews, The Tainted Throne

New Review of The Tainted Throne

Book Review: Empire of the Moghul: The Tainted Throne

SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, July 4, 2012 21:49

It would be an understatement to suggest that Alex Rutherford’s ‘Empire of the Moghul’ series has tried to delve into the maze of Mughal Empire like no one has done before. Every previous attempt towards weaving the narrative within the scope of historical fiction genre has remained unsatisfactory at the best. Similar attempts in the west with regards to other dynasties, both in pre-Christ and post-Christ era have attained cult status among the readers. And hence, the genre is the well established one there. Same, unfortunately, can not be said for India where people tend to take history a tad too seriously to allow and sort of fictional experimentation. That is a bit rich for the country where a slew of writers have earned their breads on revisionism.

Under the circumstances, it is rather surprising that an effort like ‘Empire of the Moghul’ has been well received by a section of readers and has actually managed to come out with another riveting installment. The three previous installments have dealt with the lives of emperor Babur, Humayun and Akbar, where characters spill over different installments, rather naturally. ‘The Tainted Throne’ primarily deals with the reign of emperor Jahangir and the coming of age and eventual emperor-hood of his son Khurram, later Shah Jahan.

The Tainted Throne opens with the battle scene where newly anointed emperor Jahangir is determined to crush the rebellion of his elder son Khusrao who had a few ideas of his own when Jahangir took the reign of empire following Akbar’s demise. After the defeat and confinement of Khusrao, Jahangir starts consolidating his empire.

Enters Mehrunissa, the daughter of Ghiyas Beg, a character that played important role in the previous installments of the novel and the wife of Sher Afghan. And the story takes a different tangent. In fact, it can be safely said that the novel is as much about Jahangir as it is about Mehrunissa, who later went on to become empress Nur Jahan.

Like all their previous outings, the novel sticks to the main plot without diverting much and uses every big and small characters to the full. Similarly, as now customary with this series, the female members of the Mughal family play important role in the overall narrative. Mehrunissa’s ambitions remains the main catalyst of this installment, a truly befitting portrayal of a woman who shaped the history of the subcontinent.

But the novel is also about emotions. Throughout the novel, it is the tension between Jahangir and Khurram and the former’s internal fight that keeps the emotion quotient intact. The scenes of confrontation between the father and the son go a long way in humanizing the personalities that have remained larger than life for most of the readers.

However, it must also be mentioned that in many ways The Tainted Throne is the weakest installment in the series. Unlike in the past, the writers have taken a tad more liberties that at times appear to skip that fine line which keeps this genre honorable. It is compounded by the problem that the authors wanted to cram lots of information and events in the narrative itself. The entire sequence of British ambassador, although partly true, appears to be forced and so is the mention of Catholic-Protestant feud. Also, it is highly unlikely that Jahangir won’t acknowledge Jesus or express ignorance about him, as shown in the novel, considering Jesus remains one of the most revered prophets in Islam.

But these remains merely minor glitches. The Tainted Throne remains as readable as the previous installments and carries the story to an era that has much in store of readers of all strips. The series was conceived as a quintet. However, I have a serious doubt now that the authors will be able to finish it all in the next installment itself. I am almost sure that there is at least two books in offing after The Tainted Throne. But who’s complaining. Who wants this saga to ever end?

  • Author: Alex Rutherford
  • ISBN: 978-0-7553-4760-5
  • Pages: 448
  • Price: Rs. 599
  • Publisher: Hachette
  • Category: Historical

Other ways to buy this book can be found here.