Book Review: Grabber

A debut by father-son duo into the world of fantasy horror, Grabber by Jehan Zachary and Nirmal Pulickal is a pacy read

 Grabber by Jehan Zachary and Nirmal Pulickal

Ghosts and hauntings have a certain push and pull effect on me. They arouse my curiosity but I don’t want to absorb the vibes of the dead. So, I go by the blurb on the back cover before deciding to pick up a horror book. In this case, the fabled Black Taj Mahal caught my attention. To give the whole idea:

“Identical stood the two Taj Mahals, but the black one hid a sinister secret.

Buried in the sands of time is an urban legend-there was once another grand tomb as beautiful and as magnificent as its white twin, the Black Taj Mahal. But it hid a dark secret: the sixty-four chopped hands that built the White Taj.

Centuries later, during the British era, twelve-year-old Nuru befriends a queen from the erstwhile Mughal courts. Mumtaz appears and disappears as she pleases but warns of a prophecy. The revival of the pisacha-a ghoulish union of the sixty-four severed hands that built the White Taj Mahal.

Everyone’s end is near and there is only one way to defeat this evil-find the fabled Black Taj Mahal.”

Experts have said that for children over 13, reading horror in controlled surroundings helps face fear. Given that logic, the book makes for a good read.

The language is rich and the plot is tightly woven. There is never a dull moment. Supernatural elements mingle with human greed, demonic entities, shamanism, black magic, djinns and guardian angels. The theme of victory of good over evil gives young readers a satisfying end.

The book started as a creative assignment given by Jehan’s teacher. The 10-year-old drew a monster. And his father, Nirmal, an advertising professional, took it a step further by giving it the shape of a story book. He even drafted a storyboard before penning and connecting the plot at different levels.

Jehan’s interests lie in myths and gothic tales. And there are always superheroes, demi-gods and demons in these, so it’s little wonder that the father-son duo came up with their own set of characters with humans, djinns, devils and ghosts in an Indian setting, adding shades of historical fiction.

Instead of making a whole new world like many fantasy writers, they picked up the legend of the fabled Black Taj Mahal that Mughal Emperor ShahJahan was supposedly building to give a shocking twist to their plot. To this aspect, they added a slice of cruelty by connecting the story of how the emperor had cut the hands of the builders and architect who were instrumental in bringing the glorious Taj Mahal to life. The wonder of the world is India’s crowning glory, however cruel the king.

The dead queen Mumtaz Mahal supposedly belongs to the world of djinns and she chooses 12-year-old Nuru as a saviour. She befriends him, teaches him some magic also and then waits for the blood moon when the demon will rise after centuries of slumber to meet his fate. The colonial knowledge and technological advances are helpful for the saviour. The blend of old-world attitudes, supernatural guidance and modern world awareness takes the saga of evil Sharok to its designated end.

The simplicity of village life, coupled with the villagers’ knowledge of the forest is well presented. The gory details of how a black magician dies to reinvent himself as blood-sucking devil are chilling.

However, what I found jarring was the reference to the 64 hands of the builders and architect and turning them blood-sucking snaky creatures called Xunxar. Power is a cruel master; stories of evil deeds have been circulated since the beginning of time and will continue to circulate. For the dead to live in peace in their graveyards, myths must have a peaceful end.

The author does explain his thought process and research at the end in the Author’s Note. The illustrations by Martin Calderon add to the dark and adventurous ambience.

Book details

Publisher: ‎ Puffin (imprint of Penguin Random House)
Language:‎ English
Paperback: 208 pages
Price: INR 250, Kindle edition available

This review is powered by Blogchatter Book Review Program  

This blog post is part of the blog challenge ‘Blogaberry Dazzle’ hosted by Cindy D’Silva and Noor Anand Chawla in collaboration with Zariya Healings.


21 thoughts on “Book Review: Grabber

    1. After reading your review, I’m truly excited about the opportunity to delve into the pages of “Grabber.” The debut novel by Jehan Zachary and Nirmal Pulickal, this fantasy horror book promises to be a captivating read. I can’t wait to get my copy and immerse myself in its intriguing storyline. The concept of the Black Taj Mahal and its enigmatic secret has already sparked my curiosity, and I’m eager to experience the fast-paced narrative firsthand.


  1. I read, I liked, and I appreciate the hard work of the little author along with his father’s guidance to present this book. You can say fantasy , history and a story with a moral… what I found reading this book. Being a history teacher’s daughter, it was an entertaining read for me.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sorry, but I never was a fan of this kind of genre neither in books nor in films. I really appreciate your effort in making this book review but still, it felt short in getting my interest and instead gave me thoughts that make me chill.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. To be very honest, I couldn’t read much of horror and suspense since it gets shit out of me 🤣 but this one looks interesting. Is there any way i can find audio book for this?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Not a horror fan, because… Come on, who needs more horror in life! But I am actually quite thrilled the 64 hands notwithstanding black Taj Mahal, Mumtaj Mahal as a Djinn … yes, I want to read this.


  5. I don’t like to read or watch horror, but I’m sure my elder daughter would like to read it. Having said that, your review is really good Ambica… loved it! I was more interested to read it than I would the book.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I don’t read horror books but after reading your review, I might. India has so many stories. It is good to see authors taking inspiration from them.


  7. Your review is bang on.But fantasy and horror are just not my genre. I guess i am too old to appreciate fantasy.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.