BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE*
Cover photo: Dr. Manjiri Prabhu
Amalgamating facts with fiction, the past with the present, and mystery with romance, acclaimed author Dr. Manjiri Prabhu brews a potent and refreshing mélange in her latest piece, The Legend of the Snow Queen. Global in its premise and universal in its reach, the narrative reimagines history, navigating suspense through ancient characters such as King Ludwig II and the Empress Elisabeth of Austria fitted into a contemporary plot.
Her 19th mystery thriller and third in her destination thriller series, Dr. Prabhu’s ‘Legend of the Snow Queen’ draws richly from the history and the earlier legendary inhabitants of its destination, Germany and Austria, even as it touches upon the irrefutable impact of childhood memories that shape and influence adult actions; building layered characters and intriguing plot lines.
Amidst a snowy Bavarian winter Christmas, Lake Starnberg and its illustrious beauty come alive as Hotel Die Kais makes grand preparations to celebrate the Empress of Austria, Sisi’s 180th birthday. In her honor, a Peace Treaty between five European nations is also in the works. The season of joy also has danger lurking right around the corner. The carefully chosen Mascots for the treaty – the antique swans that represent peace and love are stolen. A message threatens to disrupt the Treaty unless the Empress, who has been dead for over a century, walks the Sisi route again and retrieves a ‘soul-song’. An ominous ET and dead body by the frozen lake allude to more serious consequences.
An investigative journalist, Re Parker, haunted by his own childhood memories of being hit by freezing water, being enveloped in ice and sucked deep down into the lake, the water gushing into his mouth and ears, choking and strangling him, plunges into the case to unravel the mystery surrounding the Treaty and the message. Graceful like a snow queen in her stillness, the mysterious Rosamonde, lucid and in grip of her emotions, and seemingly closely connected to Sisi, renders Re Parker simultaneously curious and uncomfortable. The duo, drawn to each other unwittingly come together to uncover the ‘soul-song’.
In the midst of the biting cold, a colder plan is shaping up to use Rosamond’s fascination with the Empress to their wily advantage. It is up to Re to put rise above the circumstances, to distinguish the real and the fantasy parts of Rosamunde, even as he senses a mounting warmth and ‘sense of connection through many lifetimes’. Overwhelmed by his own emotions, is Re overlooking something that would’ve otherwise been obvious to him? Will Rosamonde ever free herself of her haunting past? Will the Treaty be signed?
The central historical characters that spin off as connected souls in the current era have an intriguing history of their own. King Ludwig II of Bavaria had already become something of a legend during his lifetime. He was possessed by the idea of a holy kingdom by the Grace of God, while in reality, he was a constitutional monarch, a head of state with rights and duties and little freedom of action.
So, he built a fantasy world around him in which, far removed from reality, he could feel he was a real king. From 1875 on he lived at night and slept during the day. His historic, poetic and ideal interpretation of his role as king is said to have led to his downfall.
Born into the royal Bavarian House of Wittelsbach and nicknamed ‘Sisi’, Elisabeth enjoyed an informal upbringing, raised to explore the countryside and enjoy creative musings. The young Sisi would go on to wed Emperor Franz Joseph I at the age of 16, a marriage that thrust her into formal Habsburg court life, for which she was unprepared and found unpleasant. FreeFree-spirited educated in the values of creativity and adventure, the dullness of royal life was no match for Sisi and she refused to conform to the norms of society. Elisabeth returned to the public consciousness with recent releases on Netflix’s The Empress and the 2022 film, Corsage.
For destination thrillers in particular, use of certain locations and related characters enhances the intrigue and reinforces the intended enigmatic aura and sequences of disruption, much like Shakespeare’s Othello, set in Venice provides the edge because of its proximity to barbarism. It is also a quest for exploring the relationship between a place and the morality associated with it – Do the trappings of place exert its influence on human nature? Dr. Prabhu seems to have landed the perfect locale, connected to characters that seem tailor-made to express the melancholy at the heart of this fast-paced, riveting mystery.
Dr. Prabhu justifies her title as the ‘Indian Agatha Christie’ conferred by the media, weaving twists and turns along the way, even as she merges history with mystery, transforming destinations into characters.
Dr. Prabhu also explores the influence of childhood and its implications as adults and the complexities of human nature. As Prabhu’s Re observes, Life, is but a trajectory of human foibles and thrillers thrive on these imperfections and this Legend.. successfully captures life at its complicated best. Get on board to experience this thrilling ride!
About the Author:
Manjiri Prabhu is a Pune-based English Author, Film-maker and Founder/Director of the Pune International Literary Festival.
Labeled ‘Desi Agatha Christie’, Dr. Manjiri Prabhu has published 9 books till date, two of which have been published by Bantam/Dell USA.
Dr. Prabhu holds a Doctorate in Communication Science and is an independent filmmaker for Television and a Writer. She has directed over 200 children’s TV programs and more than 50 short fiction and travel films. Her unpublished psychological thriller novel was adapted into a Hindi feature film by NFDC, titled Kuchh Dil Ne Kaha. Her thesis, converted into a book, titled Roles: Reel and Real, has become a rare reference book for students of Hindi cinema. Prabhu has been acknowledged as a pioneer in India among women writers of mystery fiction, and she has a diverse global fan following. She is also the first female mystery Author to be published outside India.
*Jyothsna Hegde is the City News Editor of NRI Pulse.