The Third Eye, by Mahtab Narsimhan is a beautiful story that intertwines village life, religion, and magic in India. The young adult genre is filled with books that fit into specific niches, and I wasn’t quite sure where The Third Eye would fit – its description of Hindu Gods, fantasy, and rural Indian village life seemed very unusual.
Once I opened The Third Eye, I didn’t care what niche it fit, I just cared what happened next! There is really no way to do justice to such a unique, beautiful, intense, and mysterious novel except to strongly suggest that you read it. Mahtab Narsimhan has created a world of wonderful characters who leap off the pages. In her Acknowledgments, she thanks her son and his group of book-loving friends for reading her book – if it could pass muster with a group of adolescent boys, it has already passed the most impressive impressive test!
The Third Eye starts as a man from a village named Morni is trying to escape something that is chasing him in the forest outside the village. He doesn’t make it back to the village alive, and his body is deformed by whatever had hidden in the shadows.
In Morni, there is a lot of uncertainty – they lost their healer a year ago, along with his daughter, who left her two children. Tara and Suraj are left with their father, who is now a very different, quiet man who doesn’t say anything when his new wife Kali mistreats his children. Tara is an older sister very devoted to her family, and makes sure she takes care of the house, her step-mother, and spoiled step-sister so that she will be able to keep her brother from being beaten or losing a meal.
During the New Year celebration of Diwali, Tara and Suraj sit on the edges of the excitement, watching the villagers. A new healer arrives named Zarku, and while he seems to be able to know what is in the hearts and minds of the villagers, he makes Tara and Suraj very uncomfortable. Tara feels that Zarku’s black eyes are evil – all three of them. His third eye is what gives him his evil powers, and through those powers he can control more and more of the village. The number of signs that something is wrong in the village increase as time passes – men who disagree with the healer go missing, there are rumors of Vetalas (ghosts) wandering the forests, and life gets wore for Tara and Suraj.
Tara and Suraj leave the village on a quest to find their mother and grandfather, the powerful healer, so they can help the villagers. As they journey through the forests and around villages they have many challenges, several of which would make adults turn back. Tara does not give up, she prays to Ganesh, and finds help. She bargains with Yuma, the lord of death, as she faces one hurdle after another. Will Tara gain the courage and self-confidence to help herself?
I love novels with female lead characters, especially novels aimed at the young adult fantasy set. Like Max in Maximum Ride, Tara has put the burden of caring for others on her own shoulders, and she pulls on her own inner strengths to overcome challenges – even when she thinks the challenge is too great. The Third Eye shows women and girls in varying levels of power – heading a household, healing illnesses, helping others, and yet also shows the old custom of Sati, pushing a young widow toward her husband’s funeral pyre.
The Third Eye is a beautifully written look at rural life and mystical powers, and should appeal to most tween/young adult readers. There are several scenes which might be too intense and violent for younger tweens, however – I would suggest it for ages 12+ at least. I am going to hang on to my copy for a couple years so that my daughters can read such an inspiring story of a teenage girl’s courage as she tries to save her family and her village from evil.
I highly recommend The Third Eye for anyone with an eye for adventure. Add in mysticism, and magic, mix with the world of rural India, and you have a novel even adults can’t put down!
This book was received from the publisher, The Dundurn Group for review