The next book review on this site is Lyra Shanti’s science fiction/space opera novel Shiva XIV, first of the Shiva XIV series, which currently includes three novels and one short story. The series is set in what seems to be a distant future, where humans have established civilizations on several different planets throughout the universe.
The protagonist of the novel is Ayn, the son of the queen of the planet Deius. All of the people on Deius follow a strict religious doctrine, and Ayn is declared at birth to be the fourteenth incarnation of Shiva (a god from real-world Hinduism, although I wasn’t sure if he is meant to be the same god in this novel) and the second incarnation of the spacefaring historical figure The Great Adin, and is consequently given the messianic title Bodanya. As the Bodanya, Ayn is expected to fulfill an ancient prophecy and lead his people into a new age by solving the Great Paradox, a sort of theological issue for the people of Deius. Ayn also happens to be born intersex, with both male and female genitalia. The story follows him from his time as an infant to his early adolescence.
In this future universe, there are ideological divisions among the planets between those who follow religious doctrines and those who strictly follow science. The planets Kri and Ohr are two planets whose people follow science, and as such they are sometime rivals and sometime allies of Deius. The novel’s plot gets going when a meeting of the leaders of these three planets meet, and anti-religious Deiusian extremists attempt to murder Ayn. Ayn escapes with the help of the Ohrian prince, Zin, and adventures and conflict ensue.
The novel’s premise is dynamite. When I started reading it, I immediately began comparing it with Frank Herbert’s Dune for its concept of how religion and cultural divides could continue to shape society even when humanity expands beyond the constraints of our solar system. The beginning of the novel, in my opinion, was its strongest point. Later on though, I thought the novel weakened in some ways. One of Ayn’s mentors is a priest named Pei, and after Ayn and Zin leave Deius he has both a romantic arc and a warrior-training arc, and neither story arc seemed very believable to me based on what the character is like. The friendship between Ayn and Zin also stretched credibility for me. Some aspects of the prose irked as well, specifically use of exclamation points from a third-person omniscient narrator.
But, the novel had its strengths as well. The various settings and otherworldly cultural aspects were described quite well, and with its twists and intrigues and surprises, I wasn’t ever bored with the story. There’s a lot of potential here, not all of which was realized in the first book (which, if I’m not mistaken, was the author’s debut novel), and that gives me hope that the others in the series may expand the novel’s universe and achieve more of its potential while avoiding some of the pitfalls that this novel fell into. With that in mind, I think I will most likely continue with the series and read its second book, The Veil of Truth.