For a book this short, Patnaik succeeds in taking the reader for a long journey through the ups and downs of the Pandava family fortunes. The seeds for the Mahabharata’s climactic battle are sown in the childhoods of the Pandava and Kaurava cousins. This abridged retelling of the Mahabharata epic emphasises how fights begin in emotions and thoughts. Not sharing toys grows into not sharing a kingdom, and violations of ‘dharma’ or social rules and duties lead to the destruction of the family. The change of focus from the time spent on the battleground to the reasons for disputes amongst the brothers lends freshness to the story, and the annotations stimulate curiosity for the reader to ask questions and explore the rich mythology further.
Through a concise and well-paced narrative, even the large cast of actors and antagonists becomes memorable. While it is a wonderful introduction to Indian mythology for children, the narrative retains instances of caste and gender discrimination practices, but does not comment on how the characters’ actions would be viewed unfavourably today. With some of the problematic aspects of the Indian epic removed to make it palatable for a younger audience, The Boys Who Fought captures the essence of the story.
Along with its companion title The Girl Who Chose, this would make for a fun and accessible start for young readers exploring Indian lore.