Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This semi-mystical epic adventure draws loosely on the great myths and literature of India. "The imaginative scope of the story and its philosophical complexities will make this an exciting journey for the reader," said PW. Ages 10-14. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature - Dr. Judy Rowen
Tamar, King of Sundari, loses a game of dice to the king of Mahapura. The stakes were high; Tamar now wears an iron ring indicating that his life belongs to the victor. The young king travels to Mahapura to honor his pledge according to the warrior's code, or dharma. Along the journey, he encounters many strange creatures and new friends. Hashkat, king of the monkeys, is rescued and aids Tamar in many ways. Tigers, snakes, eagles and milkmaids join the entourage. Through his travels and encounters, Tamar loses much but gains priceless understanding. Inspired by Indian mythology, Alexander has crafted a compelling tale in which integrity is a most valuable commodity.
VOYA - Rebecca Barnhouse
One step forward, two steps back. That is about as fast as young King Tamar goes on his journey to the mysterious King Jaya of Mahapura. And who can blame him? At the end of his journey, only death awaits: In a game of dice with Jaya, Tamar has gambled away his life. On his path through ancient India, Tamar befriends the king of the monkeys, a talking elephant, a meditating bear, and other marvelous creatures. He falls in love with Mirri, a wise gopi, or cow-girl, and offers his sword and army to help another king. Before he leaves his sheltered, peaceful kingdom, Tamar is a hasty youth, quick to anger. By journey's end, he has learned the difference between honor and arrogance, has fought and suffered, and has come to understand much more of the world. Folktale elements fill the novel: a perilous journey to a place that might not even exist; a wise old companion; unexpected help along the way; a beautiful maiden. Alexander uses the mythology and folktales of India to create a lush, enchanting world while teaching readers concepts such as dharma and karma. (A list of characters and places and a glossary help untangle the unfamiliar names and large cast of characters.) Tamar's path to Mahapura leads inevitably to self-knowledge-by way of visits to peaceful ashramas and gory battlefields, loss of honor and honor regained, and tales told by fellow travelers. Readers will want to leap astride their horses to accompany Tamar and his companions on this trek through a rich landscape of wonder and excitement. VOYA Codes: 5Q 4P M J (Hard to imagine it being any better written, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9Alexander's latest epic adventure is rooted in the mythology of ancient India. A losing game of chance with a mysterious stranger seems like a dream to young King Tamar, but the iron ring on his finger is a very real token that his life may be forfeit. A journey to the stranger's distant kingdom seems his only chance to discover the truth. Many adventures and diversions crop up along the way as Tamar gains some surprising companions, including a brave and beautiful milkmaid, a cowardly eagle, and a wiley monkey king who used to be a man. The author's flexible style moves smoothly from comedy to tragedy and back again; from battle scenes to ridiculous situations, Alexander never loses the thread. Set within the action are small gems of poetry and folktales. The concept of dharma, or proper conduct, and the rigid caste system deeply affect Tamar's actions. Plot, characters, and setting all have their parts to play, but it is the tension set up among the lively characters and the cultural conventions binding them that create the structure of the story and lead inevitably to its conclusion. This wise and witty adventure can be enjoyed on many levels.Ruth S. Vose, San Francisco Public Library
A complex tale of honor and adventure, love and compassion, that shines with the dusky richness of an oriental tapestry.
Set in a mythical India, this is the story of Tamar, King of Sundari, who, born to the warrior caste, must live by a strict code of honor. When mysterious King Jaya arrives at Tamar's palace in the middle of the night and challenges him to a high-stakes game of dice, Tamar loses everything. Bound by the iron ring that Jaya places on his finger, he becomes the other man's slave; in the morning Jaya has vanishedthough the ring remains. Since it would be dishonorable to ignore it, Tamar sets out for Jaya's distant kingdom expecting to lose his life at the end of his journeyand what a journey it is. Joined by an impudent monkey, a beautiful milkmaid, and an eagle who has seen better days, Tamar comes to question everything he was brought up to believe in, especially the rigid caste system. A page-turning thread of tension appears in the opening sentence, drawing readers into a high adventure involving fierce battles, magical talking animals, and enchanted forests. All are rendered believable on the strength of an exceptionally well- realized cast of characters who grapple with their flaws, grow, and change. Laugh-out-loud humor leavens the story to perfection.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 2: The Iron Ring "King of Sundari" - Jaya half smiled - "I spoke of the vagaries of the dice. Here you see proof. The odds were in my favor, yet fortune stood at your side. You have won. "Yes." Tamar breathed again. He stared at the diamond. Jaya scooped up the dice and once more dropped them into the cup. "A small loss," he said, "but I shall try to regain it." "No need." Tamar pushed the diamond and chain across the board. His hands shook, as if he had just been pulled back from the edge of a cliff. "Enough. I have no desire to play again. A friendly game-friends do not keep each others possessions. Take back your wager. I shall find you some better distraction, if it pleases you." "It does not please me. You dishonor me by scorning what you rightfully won." "Call it a gift. Call it whatever you choose. I play no more." "That is not for you to say," Jaya returned. "By rule, it is I who declare the game over. No. I set the stakes again. Double what they were." Tamar's face tightened. What Jaya proposed would have put most of Sundari's treasure at risk. Tamar shook his head. "A king serves his people as well as himself, and answers to them for his actions. For me, it would be reckless stewardship." "Will you be reckless with your honor? You agreed to the rules of aksha, did you not? Obey them." "Lower the stakes, then, as you first offered to do." "At first, yes. You did not accept. I no longer offer." Jaya leaned over the table. "The game continues; we will play it out. A childish pastime? Also a question of dharma. We are both bound by dharma, King of Sundari. "I do not break dharma," Jaya went on. "But you, if you choose to break yours by refusing, so be it. End the game-and shame yourself. Tamar's blood rose. "Take up the dice." Jaya rattled the cup and casually spilled out its contents. "How interesting. Once more, the odds favor me. Once more, will fortune favor you?" The dice danced on the board as Tamar threw in turn. Jaya's smile was thin as a thread. "You have won again, King of Sundari. Now, to me. At triple the stakes." Without awaiting a reply, Jaya cast the dice. When Tamar played in turn, his head spun like the ivory cubes. He dimly grasped that his score was higher than his opponent's. "Truly, you are fortune's darling," Jaya said. "We play on. Triple what I have lost." How long even a maharajah might continue so rashly, Tamar could not guess. Winning the next turn yet again, Tamar gave up trying to calculate what he had gained. King though he was, he had never imagined such wealth within his reach. His thoughts raced over all the plans he had, until now, only dreamed: waterways from the outlying hills to the public squares, parks and gardens throughout the city, wide streets, shining new buildings, houses for even the poorest of his subjects. He seized the dice cup eagerly, threw-and won again. He was giddy, flushed with wild joy and soaked in cold sweat. The king of Mahapura yawned. "The game grows boring. One final throw for each of us. But, to play for meaningless trinkets - surely there are more exciting wagers. Something to add a touch of spice, a little stimulation." "Wager what you please," Tamar said impatiently. The game had caught him up and held him in its arms like a lover, whispering in his ear. "Honor binds you to accept it." As I do. Lay down the stakes. "Life against life." Tamar's head went back as if he had been struck. He was suddenly cold. "I do not understand." "Very simple." Jaya folded his arms and looked impassively at Tamar. "Win, my life is yours to do with as you please. Lose, your life is forfeit to me." "I cannot - " "Can. And must." With a lazy movement, Jaya scattered the dice over the board. He pursed his lips. "Fortune still favors you. My score is small, easily surpassed." Tamar's fingers had gone numb, scarcely able to hold the cup. The dice seemed to leap out by their own will. "King of Sundari," Jaya said, "you have lost." For long moments, Tamar did not speak. Then, in a voice he barely recognized as his own, he murmured, "This is folly. Madness." "No. It is honor," Jaya said. "And you, so proud of keeping it, learn what it truly is. Have you ever tested it? I think not." "I lost a wager. I still keep my honor." "Then obey dharma." Jaya rose, taller than he had first appeared. "Hear me; understand me well. I leave you now; I have other matters to deal with. But, from this moment, you are at my command. You will go to my palace in Mahapura and there make good on your debt. Vow to do so without fail." Tamar stood and looked squarely at Jaya. "You have my word as king and kshatriya. " "I accept it." Jaya nodded. He gripped Tamar's wrist in one hand with such strength that Tamar clenched his teeth to keep from crying out; and, with the other, set a ring of black iron on his finger. "The emblem of your pledge," Jaya said. "Your life is my property." "So, King of Mahapura," Tamar flung back, "what will you do with it?" "How dare you question me?" Jaya answered in a voice of cold stones grinding against each other. "Do I explain myself to a dog if I choose to kill him?" He dropped Tamar's wrist and turned away. "I am not your dog!" Tamar lunged after him. Jaya was already through the doorway. Tamar would have followed, but a roar like breaking surf filled his ears. His legs gave way; he stumbled and fell to the floor. The ring felt as if it had been bound tight around his heart. "I am not your dog!" he shouted again. And again. Until he drowned in the echoes. Text copyright © Lloyd Alexander, 1997; Published by Puffin Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers