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River of Ink

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  503 ratings  ·  114 reviews
All Asanka knows is poetry. From his humble village beginnings in the great island kingdom of Lanka, he has risen to the prestigious position of court poet and now delights in his life of ease: composing romantic verses for love-struck courtiers, enjoying the confidence of his king and covertly teaching Sarasi, a beautiful and beguiling palace maid, the secrets of his art. ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 28th 2016 by Bloomsbury Circus (UK) (first published January 26th 2016)
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River of Ink is a breathtakingly dazzling novel by Paul M M Cooper. Located in Sri Lanka in the 13th century, Cooper injects the country, people, climate, culture, flora and fauna with vibrantly alive lyrical prose and poetry, exquisite imagery and sumptuous allegories. The poet, Asanka, is a guilt-ridden timid personality, who is instructed by the cruel and despotic new ruler, Magha, to translate the ancient sanskrit epic, the Shushupala Vadua. Magha believes it will civilise his new subjects a ...more
Althea Ann
Oct 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
January is too early to start proclaiming anything the 'best book of the year,' right?
Well, obviously I can't say for sure, but this very well might be.

'River of Ink' is historical fiction with the feel of epic fantasy. It's an ABSOLUTE MUST for any fan of Guy Gavriel Kay. (It's a shame that this isn't going to show up on fantasy lists just because it doesn't feature the alternate-names overlay that Kay uses in his fiction.) But it's the exact same mix of history with a dash of the fantastic, an
This was such a disappointment.

I thought the writing was very beautiful. It did a very good job of setting up the Sri Lankan setting and immersing me in the country that it is set. I also think it did a good job of showing the brutality of war and what it sometimes takes to survive under a tyrant.

But it simply failed to engage me as a reader. I found the main character to be extremely unlikeable – even though I don’t think he was meant to be so. I couldn’t connect with him. Everyone thought he
Lyn Elliott
The central metaphor of the title could just as well be in the plural, for flowing images appear throughout – of rivers, rivulets, of water, blood and sweat, as well as the ink with which the stories are written and which itself becomes part of the tale.

The central strand of the narrative has all the elements one expects of an epic tale – an evil king from afar (Kerala), brutally invades a calm unprepared kingdom (in Sri Lanka), where his cruel actions make him widely hated. A poet, apparently p
In the blackness I was struggling through the briars of Lanka's dark forests. I swam in the depths of the lotus pool, and then it was a pool of ink, then a river, drenching my robes, filling my lungs, my eyes, with its haunting smell.

If the life you knew - the life that you enjoyed and were comfortable in - was stolen from you, what would you do? Would you be one of the nameless who died? Would you fight? Would you be afraid? So afraid that you would do whatever it took to stay alive, even
Mar 07, 2017 rated it liked it

I would have probably enjoyed this more if I'd had the time and the will to read it...uni lessons and other stuff (aka the AnY fandom going crazy over important stuff *-*) kind of swallowed me. I haven't really wanted to read after ACoL...this book was simply a case of "it's not you, it's me".
Sorcha O'Dowd
‘River of Ink’ is without a doubt one of the cleverest books I have ever read. Not in a showy or flashy way, but through its simplicity which speaks volumes.

I was drawn into Asanka’s story straight away. Although not a period of time, or a location that I am overly familiar with, Paul M. M. Cooper did a fantastic job at setting out the scene without info-dumping, and I felt very much at home there, feeling the heat on my skin, and the fear in the air. It was though our introduction to Asanka, th
We first reviewed this book on our blog, where we also talk to the author about Sri Lanka, writing and research:

A lovely physical book is just such a great opener to a good story! Paul’s book has a striking cover, an era-appropriate stylus (which he carefully researched for the period, see below), flowing ink, turning turquoise. The complementary colour to turquoise is the colour of blood and were they to be placed adjacent to each other, they would harmo
Oct 21, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Actually 3.5 stars.

Usually, Sri Lanka is not one of the countries I often visit in books. That is why this one is certainly among the most special books I read this year.

What I found especially exciting was to learn a little about Sri Lanka’s history and medieval customs - which I had known next to nothing about - and about the „Shishupala Vadha" (the piece of literature Asanka has to translate). It is quite astonishing that Sanskrit allows to write whole lines, which are palindromes, and other
David Greaves
Mar 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mynah birds are known for a lot of things, one of which is probably success: they’re an incredibly widespread group, turning up in Africa, the Americas, the Pacific, and obviously all across Southeast Asia. Another is sound. Specifically, the common hill mynah – Gracula religiosa, which is apparently the bird most often referred to by the term mynah, and of which the Sri Lankan hill mynah (fairly probably the mynah that appears in the first sentence of Paul Cooper’s debut novel River of Ink) is ...more
Mar 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Writers and artists employ powerful tools that can shape how a society views itself, its past, and how it envisions its future. They are often the front line of resistance.

River of Ink by Paul M. M. Cooper came to my attention when the author followed me on Twitter. I downloaded a sample of his book and enjoyed his writing and bought a copy of River of Ink. (Yes, I bought a book, this was not a free review galley!)

The novel is fiction but the downfall of Sri Lanka under a destructive military ta
Christine Brae
Apr 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't know if a quick review will serve to give justice to such a deep and meaningful story. From the first few words of the first chapter, I was immediately transported to a time and place that was unknown to me. And so I found myself fully immersed in this book, captivated by the softness of the narrator’s voice, the vivid telling of life in a Sri Langkan village, the recollection of the violent kingdoms that existed before us. This lovely book interspersed lyrical poetry with historical fac ...more
Oct 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
River of Ink offers a riveting tale of historical fiction based in medieval Sri Lanka. It tells the story of an old court poet who finds himself swept up in the events of an invasion by the Kalinga chief Magha, who forcibly takes over control of the island in a particularly violent way. The author Paul M.M. Cooper has done his homework and interweaves historical facts into his fictional narrative. As a specialist in Sri Lankan history and literature from this period, I can vouch for the fact tha ...more
Eileen Hall
Nov 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautifully written story of a poet in 13th. century Celyon, now Sri Lanka, who has been tasked with translating a poem from Sanskrit to Sinhala and Tamil by the ruler who has conquered their land.
The ensuing consequnce of this act leads to murder, revolution and finally salvation.
Paul M M Cooper has written a wonderful account of this termoil with great insight and I hope to read more from him in the future.
I was given a digital copy of this novel by the publisher via Netgalley in return for
Karolina C
Jan 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gorgeous debut!!! I was instantly intrigued when I heard about this book especially when it was likened to Guy Gavriel Kay, one of my favourite authors. I knew I had to read it immediately and I was not disappointed. Simple and elegant , poetic prose, beautiful scenery , and a rich story. Paul MM Cooper definitely maintains his own style as well and he has written just the type of book I am always seeking to fall in love with. Will be looking out for what he may come up with next.
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
Oh my God you guys this book! I was completely enchanted by the book, the history, the stories/legends, the customs it was all so rich and fascinating being an area of history and the world that I'm not very knowledgable in! I was transported to the time period, and I was so eager to learn as much as I could from the book. It was a historical novel, but it had a touch of fantasy to it, but then that might have been me!

I also completely loved the way the book was written!
The book is written fro
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m sitting here now after reading the final pages of this book and honestly I’m not sure exactly what to say about this well-crafted novel other than it was a complete pleasu

re to be given the opportunity to read an ARC. It’s one of the most well-thought out novels that I’ve read in a while and it managed to be a historical fiction, while still possessing one of the most beautiful proses I’ve ever read.

In my life I’ve encountered a lot of Historical Fiction novels and many are written as diarie
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Poetry's beautiful. It whiles away the hours. It tricks people, thrills them. It makes us forget our lives for a few minutes - but that's all.

And thus starts the story of a poet, forced to pledge allegiance to a tyrant usurper, having to translate a work from a foreign land, using that to defy the king in his own way. And it ends with his words rallying up the bent and broken common folk, getting them behind a rebel army, eventually driving the king away.

That Kalinga Magha defeated Parakrama P
Apr 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't have a clear notion of what made this book so enjoyable for me. It was refreshing, though it told a fairly straight-forward story of love and loss. I think it was just smoothly executed, and so I coasted through it, enjoying the sights and smells and sounds, and rarely having any reason to judge.

Maybe, like a good drummer, this book was at its best because there were no glaring mistakes, there was no showing off, and the basic rudiments were there to keep it moving along nicely.

Nov 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a gorgeous book! Elegant prose, fascinating setting/culture, well-rounded characters. I love that the tale is written by Asanka to his mistress Sarasi, that he has the courage to tell her all his experiences during the rule of Magha, including the more personal, sometimes cowardly, thoughts and fears he once hid from her. I'm fairly open to any P-O-V that I come across while reading, though this (writing to a lover) is not usually one of my favorites. But Cooper maintains this perspective s ...more
Megha Jain
River of Ink is one of those books who caught me head and heart with the title and spectacular cover design. So much that I specifically requested for this copy for review - picked it - found it probably wasn't anywhere near to what I thought it was - yet got addicted to uncover the story within the pages once I was immersed in it.
Reading this book was my personal challenge and I was thoroughly motivated to complete it, to unfold the beautiful play of words and only to find truly what the synop
Oct 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r-ng
River of Ink by Paul M. M. Cooper is is a story about two heroes - one unwitting, unplanned, but very public; the other quiet, deliberate and behind the scenes. It is a story of a civil war, of the pen being mightier than the sword, and of mythology. This book brings to life not only war but also a culture rich in the arts. That richness is the lasting impression of this book.

Read my complete review at:

Reviewed based on a publisher’s galley received throu
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: firstreads, 2016
I received this book from the Goodreads First Reads program.

Home. Loyalty. Love. A historical masterpiece with epic fantasy leanings. It took me a little while to get into this one, but not for lack of story. I was distracted by the holiday which made reading a little difficult as there was so much information to retain in this one. The writing was masterful, and the story far reaching. Very good.
Rachel Carr
Jul 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book from a goodreads giveaway.

This was a very good book. Good character and plot development. It was interesting reading about a culture very different from mine in a location that I am likely to not experience. The human struggles remain the same and I enjoyed learning a bit of history and culture. I also loved the way the power of the written word came through in this book and how people can rally against a cruel leader.
Jul 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own
Beautiful, engaging and not at all what I expected. A lovely surprise.
Jul 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: historical
This novel made me feel as though I’d been transported right back in time to 13th-century Sri Lanka - not a place or era I know much about, to be honest, but the descriptions of the settlements, landscapes, religions, people, food and even the weather brought it all to life in wonderfully lyrical prose.

The story unspools gradually, but with a sense of constant urgency and dread, as the narrator and protagonist, Asanka the court poet, puts his memories of the worst time of his life down in writin
Naleendra Weerapitiya
Oct 23, 2018 rated it really liked it

"‘Why,’ he asked, ‘would a man follow a god who won’t even fight on his behalf? Who won’t even make him brave?’

‘Because some want a god who doesn’t carry a sword,’ I said, without thinking."

[Cooper, Paul M.M.. River of Ink (Kindle Locations 3821-3823). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.]

Upon completing of reading, River of Ink, I had to read through the relevant pages of Amaradasa Liyanagamage's මධ්‍යකාලීන ලංකා ඉතිහාසය (pages 183-205), which is a Sinhala re-write by the author himself of hi
Apr 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Cooper's depiction of life in Lanka is soothing and immersive, but the story is too tense to let you relax in it. On the one hand, such detail leads one to think "I am reading historical fiction" but on the other, why else would I ever learn about this stuff? Like, people are revolting against their weirdo usurping kings all the time. Le yawn. But did you know some people wrote by scratching into the surface of the paper with a stylus and then daubing the ink over the inscribed lines which would ...more
Andy Millen
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Set in 13thC Sri Lanka, Court Poet Ashanka is set to work by Mugha, an usurping Tyrannical king, translating the The Shishupala Vadha, or the Killing of Shishupala ( one episode of the Mahabharata,) .As the resistance to the tyrant grows, the poem and its creation become more than expected.
I'm admittedly not one for first person narratives, and it was a bit of a slow burner at first. The novel flits from the main story to fleshing out the characters and actions in the Vadha , both crescendoing t
Sophie A. Pollard
May 22, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully written prose. Reading it I was transported into world and that is no greater feeling.
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Paul Cooper was born in South London and grew up in Cardiff, Wales. He was educated at the University of Warwick and the UEA, and after graduating he left for Sri Lanka to work as an English teacher, where he took time to explore the ruins both ancient and modern. He has written for magazines, websites and also worked as an archivist, editor and journalist.

He is on Twitter as @PaulMMCooper

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