THE SIXTH STRING OF VILAYAT KHAN BY NAMITA DEVIDAYALRs 699, 253pp; WestlandMeditative and playful, generous and ruthless, he was many things to many people. He broke heart and he broke rules. He tinkered as furiously with his car as he did with his instrument, which he transformed technically to create the new sitar standard. And always there was the music, at the centre of his being, protected and unharmed – music that contained the sound of ‘fairies dancing, elephants walking’. Vilayat Khan saw music. He was the man who made the sitar sing. Namita Devidayal, author of the acclaimed bestseller, The Music Room, recreates the extraordinary life of an artiste who fundamentally and forever changed Indian instrumental music. She follows his footsteps from Calcutta, through Delhi, Bombay, Shimla and Dehradun, to Princeton, USA, where he spent his last years. Filled with previously untold stories about the man and the musician, this is an intimate portrait of an uncommon genius. It is also an absolute feat of research – and storytelling. FIRE AND BLOOD BY GEORGE RR MARTIN706pp, Rs 999; HarperCollinsThe thrilling history of the Targaryens comes to life in this masterly work by the author of A Song of Ice and Fire, the inspiration for HBO’s Game of Thrones. With all the fire and fury fans have come to expect from internationally bestselling author George RR Martin, this is the first volume of the definitive two part history of the Targaryens in Westeros. Centuries before the events of a Game of Thrones, House Targaryen – the only family of dragonlords to survive the Doom of Valyria – took up residence on Dragonstones. Fire and Blood begins their tale with the legendary Aegon the Conqueror, creator of the Iron Throne, and goes on to recount the generations of Targaryens who fought to hold that iconic seat, all the way up to the civil war that nearly tore their dynasty apart. What really happened during the Dance of the Dragons? Why was it so deadly to visit Valyria after the Doom? What were Maegor the Cruel’s worst crimes? What was it like in Westeros when dragons ruled the skies? These are but a few of the questions answered in this essential chronicle, as related by a learned master of the Citadel. With all the scope and grandeur of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Fire and Blood is the ultimate game of thrones, giving readers a whole new appreciation for the dynamic, often bloody, and always fascinating history of Westeros. Illustrated throughout by Doug Wheatley. NINE NIGHTS OF THE GODDESS EDITED BY CALEB SIMMONS, MOUMITA SEN, HILLARY RODRIGUES359pp, Rs 799; AlephNine Nights of the Goddess explores the festival of Navaratri – alternatively called Navaratra, Mahanavami, Durga Puja, Dasara, and/or Dassain – which lasts for nine nights and ends with a celebration called Vijayadasami, or ‘the tenth (day) of victory’. Celebrated in both massive public venues and in small, private domestic spaces, Navaratri is one of the most important and ubiquitous festivals in South Asia and wherever South Asians have settled. These festivals share many elements, including the goddess, royal power, the killing of demons, and the worship of young girls and married women, but their interpretation and performance vary widely. This interdisciplinary collection of essays investigates Navaratri in its many manifestation and across historical periods, including celebrations in West Bengal, Odisha, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Nepal. Collectively, the essays consider the role of the festival’s contextual specificity and continental ubiquity as a central component for understanding South Asian religious life, as well as how it shapes and is shaped by political patronage, economic development and social status.