Book Reviews

Children of Decay

In an empty, barren moor, beside a polluted river and a dead forest lives a solitary old man performing a long-forgotten craft. He is rumoured to have murdered his own wife and children. A powerful family’s ancient purity has been broken as the banyan tree representing the sanctity of their name has started to decay. So, to fulfill a prophecy, they must open an underground cellar for the first time in centuries. Only days before the fated night, an escaped convict recites a dream that earns him a place at the estate and the family’s prodigal youngest son disappears! These are the absurdities of our protagonists - a young man from the capital and a fisherman boy with a mysterious past - must face, as they partake in a journey where they confront the perils of growing into the realities of adulthood.

It doesn’t happen often, but on rare occasions, after finishing a book, I feel as though I can review it in a single word. That wouldn’t be fair to the author, who provided me with a copy in good faith, expecting something a little more thorough, so I must elaborate. The author in question is Gopi Bain, and if I were to review his debut novel in a single word, that word would be “beautiful.” “Beautiful” likely isn’t the word that comes to your mind after reading the book’s title, Children of Decay, a headline that hints at darkness within its pages, but the dichotomy simply adds to the book’s beauty.

From its opening page, Bain paints a picturesque image of India and the people who inhabit it. While industrialisation plays a part in Children of Decay, thereby placing it within the modern day, the novel’s world feels as though it sits outside of time. Bain presents a snapshot so arresting that its era almost doesn’t matter; its presentation is timeless. This is a piece of literary fiction, it’s a mystery, it’s a thriller, it’s a coming of age story. And as much as it is all of those things, above all, it feels like a fable.

At 280 pages in paperback and hardcover (or an estimated 367 pages on your favourite eReader), Children of Decay isn’t a particularly long read. Yet the book packs so much into its pages, from its opening with a flute maker, to readers meeting a fisherman, to witnessing the interactions of a powerful family, to prophecies, mythologies and murders, and everywhere in between. Bain has expertly woven these narrative threads together, taking the time to luxuriate in the scenery, while also presenting the mundanities of life. I won’t get into the story’s plot; its blurb (included at the top of this review) is enough to whet the reader’s appetite, and it is best experienced without me spoiling any of the details. Not a page of it is wasted, however; as the author packs all the aforementioned elements, and more, in, while moving it forward at a deliberate pace that draws the reader in.

Broken down into four parts, the book touches on spirituality, mythology and humanity. It looks at both the Hindu and Muslim religions, including their respective mythologies, through its characters and the differences they look to, and their commonality as humans. The story has a dark undercurrent to it, and explores the darkness we humans are capable of. Yet through this darkness, it presents an optimistic theme and an underlying sense of hope.

Bain’s prose throughout Children of Decay is clear and crisp. Beautifully easy to follow, it isn’t particularly flowery. Instead, what appears to be simple language is carefully crafted to give the reader all the information they need while allowing their imagination to do the work. When describing events, scenes and characters, the prose feels magical, ensuring the reader will be lost within the words and transported inside the book. Given its setting, there are a number of words many readers won’t recognise (including myself; while I recognised some, I was ignorant to others). The author has handily included footnotes for these—77 of them!—which are presented in an educational and inviting tone. The reader can ignore these, but I clicked on the words I was familiar with, purely for the description.

A large part of the prose’s success is thanks to the book’s narrator. The character is unnamed throughout Children of Decay, with the world seen through his viewpoint. He is an engaging character, but largely acts as a witness to the book’s events, chronicling what he sees. The book’s remaining characters, including fisherman, Vishnu, flute maker, Arup Sai, the members of the powerful Bhairab family, and all the others who populate the world, are beautifully drawn. The author has a wonderful ear for dialogue, with it all feeling natural, while also fitting with the fable-like delivery of the story, and the majestic feel of its prose. Through most of the book, Children of Decay isn’t heavy on dialogue. With that said, there are exceptions where more emphasis is placed on the dialogue, including instances where multiple paragraphs are spoken by single character. Such instances work to the story’s benefit, and the conversations its narrator bears witness to.

While the novel isn’t heavy on dialogue, a number of segments include a lot of it, often multiple paragraphs from a single character. Where oftentimes, such an approach feels like shoehorning a monologue into the story, it works to Children of Decay’s benefit, and the conversations its narrator bears witness to.

Children of Decay has been edited wonderfully, strengthening the author’s words and ensuring the book flows precisely. Likewise, the proofreading has ensured the book is largely free of typos. While in one of the early chapters, a few sentences don’t start with a capital letter, the remainder of the book doesn’t include such errors. It’s not enough to dampen my enjoyment of the book, and I also read this a number of months prior to its release: it’s entirely possible those missing capitals will be replaced by the time it’s out.

To sum up Children of Decay in a single word, is to call it beautiful. It touches on some wonderful themes as it presents a message of hope while presenting dark moments. The prose stunningly conveys everything it needs to about a magical world populated by brilliant characters. Quite simply, Children of Decay needs to be read. It’s beautiful.

Favourite Passage

“I looked up and there he was. A humanoid creature. Pitch black skin, no hair on his head and a pale white beard covering his face. He was walking in a part of the pond that could easily drown a fully-grown man. He had long, bony legs and was gazing intently into the water. I gasped only a little bit and that was enough for him to detect me.

“My eyes met with his, which flashed like bright, white torchlights in the dying light of the late afternoon. Terrified, I threw my fishing rod into the water and ran for my life. I dived into my hut and locked the door. I peered out of the window, hoping that maybe I saw a twisted figment of my imagination. But there he was. He didn’t chase after me but simply continued his hunt. Since then, I’ve seen him regularly. We mind our own business and stay out of each other’s way. He’s harmless, really.”

Children of Decay, Book 1: The Decay, Chapter 11: “Bishnu Tells Ghost Stories”

Children of Decay was provided by the author for the purpose of an honest review.

Children of Decay will be available in eBook and physical formats from retailers, including—but not limited to—Amazon from 24 February 2022.

You can follow Gopi Bain online, via:

Note: I do not post scores on reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:

  • Amazon – Review to be posted upon the book’s release
  • Goodreads
Interested in purchasing Children of Decay?

Please find a link below; please note I do not collect any proceeds from the sale.

Children of Decay: A Family Saga Mystery

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