Manu S. Pillai is an Indian author and historian. He was born in 1990 in Kerala and grew up in Pune. Pillai holds a Master’s degree in International Relations and has also worked with the parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor.

The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore was his debut non-fiction work. His other works include Rebel Sultans.

Pillai is also the recipient of a Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar.


The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore is the story of the rivalry between two cousins to stake their claim to the Ivory Throne. The book is a historical fiction with the main focus on the de-facto protagonist, Sethu Lakshmi Bayi, and her arch-rival, Sethu Parvathi Bayi.

Over the course of the book, readers come to know of the matrilineal system prevalent amongst the ruling class and the Nairs. It is this cultural setting in which the two cousins were adopted to become the junior and senior ranis. How a series of unexpected deaths of the heirs to the coveted throne destined these women to eternal rivalry – one that has continued to date amongst their descendants – is what the book is all about.

The author has also given a simultaneous account of India’s struggle for independence and the effect it had on its rulers and their decisions.


While The Ivory Throne is a historical fiction, the book has all the elements of a riveting drama. Pillai has seamlessly interwoven historical facts with legends from the past. He has brilliantly juxtaposed the rivalry for the throne, palace politics and conspiracies with the changes in India’s political environment.

Given how similar the names of most characters sounded, the author has done a commendable job at making sure that they never confound or overwhelm the readers.

In every chapter, Pillai has linked the present events to those that happened in the past. He shows how the actions or decisions taken taken hundreds of years ago went on to affect the life of Lakshmi Bayi, her ancestors, and even her descendants.

An excerpt from The Ivory Throne by Manu Pillai

An out-and-out page-turner, The Ivory Throne is a reflection of how women’s empowerment went for a toss after the British took control of the region.


Every good story has a hero and a villain. To its credit, The Ivory Queen too glorifies one character, albeit at the expense of the other.

Since the book portrays Sethu Lakshmi Bayi as a protagonist, Sethu Parvathi Bayi has been relegated to the role of a negative character. One cannot help but feel that the author failed to do justice to her side of the story. While her actions have been presented as-is, her motives, at best, come across as the author’s assumptions. A neutral commentary on Sethu Parvathi Bayi would have made for a better reading.


Lakshmi Bayi looked as prim and majestic as ever, and with unusual enthusiasm and energy, took charge of her wards.

But the monsoons of 1924 would come to be recalled not for their romance as for the veritable terror they stirred. It seemed as if the skies had been ripped apart as the waters burst out endlessly, transforming the bountiful scene into one of violent catastrophe.


Ameya Score:

Ameya would recommend The Ivory Throne to history enthusiasts who don’t mind a pinch of fiction. That being said, if you find the prospect of reading voluminous books daunting, you probably wouldn’t regret skipping this bulky, 704-page novel.

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