In the first book of The Kind Mahout Series, entitled Soul of the Elephant, author Pam Laughlin introduces Hemit, a boy who lives during the British occupation of India. Hemit is rapidly approaching the age when he will choose his own elephant, and is at odds with his father over their training—Hemit believes that kindness will get better results than cruelty. While his father clings to the old ways, Hemit finds a kindred soul in the form of a mysterious hermit called The Husher who, with a mystical process, can reach the soul of the elephant.
Whether Hemit can keep his forbidden relationship with The Husher secret and be able to convince his father to change his ways are the central conflicts of the story.
There are many fascinating aspects to this book, including the customs and food of a people with whom I was not acquainted before. Ms. Laughlin provides lush descriptions of the scenery and tantalizing depictions of their meals, as well as in-depth portrayals of the social caste system and the hunting process (the duck hunt especially intrigued me).
But in spite of, or perhaps because of, the simplicity of Hemit’s life, there’s a sense of imminent danger throughout. Nature sends lightning, rainstorms and floods; the British bureaucrats are both overbearing and condescending; and the elephants themselves can pose significant risks. Not to mention the tiger (or is it a were-tiger?) that preys on the villagers.
If there’s a negative to this book, it’s that some appealing minor characters appear here and there, but don’t have a significant role to play in the narrative. I’m hoping these characters have more to tell us as the series continues.
I recommend this book for its smooth writing and excellent imagery, as well as the sheer depth of knowledge it displays. I enjoyed every page of it.
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