Confession: I’m a sucker for a pretty book cover. I know, I know, everybody says that I should never judge a book by its cover, but the thing is, I do judge books by their covers all the time, and the prettier the cover, the higher the likelihood I’m going to check that book out. Whether or not I actually buy it will always depend on if it interests me, but what matters here is that it grabbed my attention long enough to actually pick it up, read the blurb, and make a judgment call as to whether or not I want to read it.
Of course, my definition of “pretty” is probably different from someone else’s definition. I tend to gravitate towards really graphic, artsy covers: the painterly ones are really nice, but I can appreciate a well-done minimalist cover when I see one. What I don’t especially like, though, are human faces on the covers. I know this sounds kind of weird, but it’s just something I’ve gotten sick and tired of seeing, especially since most of the faces I see on covers are the same old Bog-Standard, Forgettable White Girl/Boy/Couple. If I see a face on a book cover, I might not look at it twice, unless there’s another cover out there that doesn’t have a face on it at all.
But when it came to Her Nightly Embrace by Adi Tantimedh, it was the face on the cover that actually got me to sit up and take notice. That’s because it’s the face of Sendhil Ramamurthy, who played Mohinder Suresh on the TV show Heroes. It had been a while since I’d seen him in any of the media I was engaged with, so I was instantly curious to know what he was doing on a book cover. As it turns out, he’s on the cover because he’s been cast as the main protagonist of the TV adaptation of Ravi PI, and Her Nightly Embrace is the first book in that series.
Her Nightly Embrace follows Ravi Chandra Singh, a former schoolteacher-turned-private eye working for Golden Sentinels, a high-end private investigation firm whose clientele come from the wealthy upper class of British society. Ravi likes to think of himself as relatively normal in comparison to his colleagues (whom he describes as “[b]rilliant fuckups with nowhere else to go”), but he isn’t quite as normal as he likes to pretend. The truth is, Ravi can see gods: all of them, not just the Hindu gods. He likes to think it’s some kind of neurochemical imbalance (hence he takes medication for it), but on the other hand, he also wonders if he might not actually be an honest-to-god(s) shaman.
Either way, being able to see the gods doesn’t make living his life any easier. Between family trouble and learning to deal with the realities of his job, Ravi has enough on his plate without having to deal with the gods, too. So he does what all right-minded British people do when faced with problems: keep calm, and carry on – so long as nothing about his situation manages to break his calm first.
The first thing readers need to know about this novel is that it isn’t quite a novel at all – at least, not in the traditional sense. It’s more like a compilation of four semi-connected novellas, with each section having its own story arc but containing elements and references connecting it to the sections before and after it. This format is actually really similar to the way most TV series run: each episode usually has its own, self-contained story arc, but is still connected to the previous episode in some way. This is interesting because it allows the reader to really understand Ravi’s job, especially how it works and how he deals with each individual case. It also helps that it lets the author pack a lot of plots into one book, without making the entire thing into a confusing mess.
However, the style isn’t without its disadvantages. See, the problem with that kind of format is, even though the sections are semi-connected to each other, there’s still plenty of things that fall into the gaps between them. One of those is foreshadowing, especially when it comes to details involving supporting characters like Ravi’s colleagues at Golden Sentinels: there’s bits of information that come totally out of left field because there was absolutely nothing in the previous chapters to hint at them. Thing is, this isn’t really a problem on TV: it’s possible to use the visual nature of the medium to leave little clues that’ll give the viewer hints as to what might be up with a particular character, which can then be revealed in a later episode without it feeling too much like a surprise. The same thing just can’t be done in a novel, especially when it’s told from first-person perspective; it runs the risk of making the narrator (Ravi, in this case) look unnaturally observant.
The style also does funny things to the way the stories unfold. Just like with the foreshadowing for characters, foreshadowing for plot events tends to fall into the gaps, which means that sometimes, some things happen without any proper lead-up. This means that there’s a kind of deus ex machina feel to the way things turn out in some of the stories. For some readers, this kind of thing can be a deal-breaker, but I think it’s relatively easy to ignore those moments because the stories whip by so quickly that there’s hardly any time to think about them when they do occur.
As for the characters, they’re a fun, interesting bunch of people, but to really understand them (without spoiling the story) it helps to use the D&D alignment chart. On that chart, Ravi might be considered Lawful Good: he tends to see things in shades of black-and-white rather than grey, and always wants to do the right thing, both in accordance to morality and the law. But because Ravi just isn’t that lucky in life, his colleagues over at Golden Sentinels absolutely do not fall anywhere in the Lawful Good end of the chart: some might be considered Chaotic Good, a few others are more Chaotic Neutral, and a few more are Lawful Evil. It also doesn’t help that the world as a whole operates in shades of grey – something Lawful Good characters have a real hard time dealing with. So poor Ravi constantly questions himself about what he’s doing, worrying all the time about the state of his morality and his karma.
Now, this isn’t to say that Ravi is a total stick-in-the-mud, holier-than-thou kind of person, because he really, really isn’t. He makes mistakes, and he can screw things up; he’s human, after all. It’s just that he has a particular code and a particular view of what’s right and what’s wrong, and it eats at him when the world and his colleagues don’t cooperate with those views. And it’s this conflict, this constant moral struggle that Ravi undergoes, that makes him such a fascinating character. His snark helps, of course (he’s British; of course he snarks), but it’s the conflict fuelling that snark that really makes him such an interesting character to read about.
However, much as I find Ravi fascinating and fun to read about, I have to say that I relate to his colleagues more than I do to him – which probably says some very terrible things about me as a person, since I did just say that they’re mostly a combination of Chaotic Good, Chaotic Neutral, and Lawful Evil. But the thing is, I like their version of justice. It’s the kind that chooses suffering over death, because death is easy, but suffering lasts a lifetime. Even better, they’re good at delivering that suffering too, oftentimes in ways that are so exquisite it’s very hard not to grin with the kind of evil delight generally reserved for villains – or especially vindictive people who enjoy a healthy heaping serving of poetic justice with their morning cereal.
Overall, Her Nightly Embrace is a fun, quick four-star read, albeit with a few weaknesses thanks to the style of the book. While some readers might consider those weaknesses deal-breakers, others who are more inclined to be forgiving (or more willing to see it in light of its future existence as a TV show) will probably enjoy their ringside seat to Ravi’s interesting (and maybe slightly crazy) life.