Written by: Roshani Chokshi
Hardcover: 342 pages
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre: Fantasy/Young Adult
Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.
“Although I had never envisioned marriage, I had thought of love. Not the furtive love I heard muffled in the corners or rooms of some of the harem wives. What I wanted was a connection, a shared heartbeat that kept rhythm across oceans and worlds. I didn't want the prince from the folktales or some milk-skinned, honey-eyed youth who said his greetings and proclaimed his love in the same breath. I wanted a love thick with time, as inscrutable as if a lathe had carved it from night and as familiar as the marrow in my bones. I wanted the impossible. “
When I saw the cover I knew that I was going to read it. I read the description and I had a feeling I would love it. Some books are like that. Some books I just find myself drawn to before I even read the first page. Does that ever happen to you or is it just me?
Now I have always loved mythology. From Hades and Persephone to Tamsin, the Morrigan, and even Loki. I am not well versed in Middle Eastern and Asian mythos, but I am starting to. I think I first got interested in Hindu mythology from a Christopher Pike series growing up of all things (The Last Vampire series). There is something fascinating about tales of Sati, Rama, & Shiva. I am also a big fan of fairytales and One Thousand and One Nights. So this gorgeous little book was completely right up my alley.
In the kingdom of Bharata, horoscopes hold weight. Unfortunately, Princess Mayavati was born with a cursed horoscope, one that declares her to be married to death and destruction. Because of this, the other women of the harem have always treated her differently (such as blaming her for any misfortune that occurs) as have her half siblings and other members of the court. Her only friend is her little sister Gauri who she lulls to sleep with fantastic tales of the Night Bazaar. However, a life of isolation has meant that can do many things alone such as read and sketch, spy on her father and his court from the rafters, and dream of a different life.
Until her father announces that Maya will marry a foreign prince to avert war. The choice of a husband is for her to decide, but her fate will be the same. She will be another pampered harem wife in a gilded cage. Her freedom will be gone. Her life no longer her own. Except that her fate is to be even darker than what she ever expected. Her father wants her to drink poison and martyr herself to save her kingdom and her little sister.
But something unexpected happens on her wedding day. Before she can take the first drop of poison a mysterious new suitor walks into her life. She chooses not to be a pawn in that moment. Something feels right. She chooses him. From that day on she becomes the Queen of Akaran and wife of Amar, whisked away to an unknown kingdom and married to a man whose face she cannot see.
When I looked at him, something stirred inside me. It felt like recognition sifted through dreams; like the moment before waking - when sleep blurred the true world, when beasts with sharp teeth and beautiful, winged things flew along the edges of your mind.
Through Amar she finds love and passion. She finds the partner she had always been hoping for though he seems to be spun from the myths and fairytales she used to tell her little sister Gauri. But Akaran is also full of secrets. There are locked and hidden rooms, things her husband cannot and will not say, and a profound feeling that something is missing. Who can she trust? Can she even trust herself?
Things I liked: "I want your perspective and honesty," he said, before adding in a softer voice, "I want to be humbled by you. My kingdom needs a queen. It needs someone with fury in her heart and shadows in her smile. It needs someone restless and clever. It needs you." When you have such prose like this, how could you not fall in love with such an exquisite fairytale. Seriously this fairytale killed me with its gorgeousness. This was a book I loved to read; read for the prose, the way the words wound together to create something magical. It was all so beautifully lovely. It all reminded me of a story that Scheherazade would weave in One Thousand and One Nights.
Oh and the world building. Le Sigh. It’s a mushy, sugary concoction of romantic goodness and I loved every last bite. It made me smile and my heart sing. I fell in love with the magic. Is that not what fairytales are supposed to do. The mythology roots are there too. Also makes my heart smile.
I loved Maya. I love that she found strength in her solitude. I love that she persevered. I might not have been so lucky. Sure I am an introvert, but I am an introvert who needs to be social. Oh and the whole wanting everyone to be happy thing. Let’s back to Maya though. Maya is curious. Maya is brave. Maya has edges. Maya is flawed. She makes bad decisions, she falls prey to an Iago like character and doesn’t trust her heart and herself when she needs to Many fairytales have flawed heroes and heroines. It’s part of the journey and this is Maya’s journey to find herself and what her power is. Even better when she does mistakes, and oh boy does she, she takes responsibility for her actions even when her decisions are bad ones.
"I want to lie beside you and know the weight of your dreams," he said, brushing his lips against my knuckles. "I want to share whole worlds with you and write your name in the stars." He moved closer and a chorus of songbirds twittered silver melodies. "I want to measure eternity with your laughter." Guh. As you might be able to tell, I also loved Amar. Sure Amar is the mysterious stranger trope, but so are many loves in fairytales. It is why I love them so. I really can’t blame Maya for falling for him. All her life her view of love and life as a wife was through the harem. For Amar, she is his world. There is no harem, no other wives…just her. Yeah at first glance there might be insta love or at least the insta desire. The real love, the trust, and the commitment will come later. Plus there is more to the story. Still Amar says things like this and I can’t help but love him. "The truth," said Amar, taking a step closer to me, "is that you look neither lovely nor demure. You look like edges and thunderstorms. And I would not have you any other way."
Kamala the horse is hilarious. Aside from her flesh eating tendencies I think she would be great to have around. It’s probably the snark. Yep definitely the snark. I wanted more of Gauri. Looks like I will get my wish as the next tale set in this universe is hers. 2017, come quick. I absolutely enjoyed it, and I cannot wait to read more by Roshani Chokshi.
Things I didn’t like so much: This book is not without its flaws. Sometimes the prose can so lovely that it chooses style over substance, almost too descriptive. This is a minor nitpick though.
I think I also wanted Maya to make her own choice, to embrace her former life not because of fate, but because she wanted to. I also wanted more. Of everything.
My last gripe isn’t really with the book. I read a few reviews that said Maya slut shamed. The quote in particular is “I’d rather spread ideas than legs,” I hissed back. “But I doubt you would agree-" Whoa, hold on there cowboy. One, none of the harem wives are sluts. It is true that the harem wives are pretty things in gilded cages. Their sexuality is owned instead of owning it. I can’t blame Maya for wanting to spread ideas rather than spread her legs. She didn’t learn to cherish the harem as they were so cruel to her. Instead she read, she learned, she spied on her father and discovered the kingdom she lived in. She learned that she wanted more. I would want the same. Maya wants to be more than a harem wife, one of many, and far from independent. She wants her freedom. Can you blame the girl? Just because she does not want the life of a harem wife does not mean she sees the harem wives as sluts. Maybe I read the passage and the book differently. But I saw her as just wanting more. It just bugged me when I read some other reviews and …sigh. Anyway….
Buy or Borrow: Buy. So so gorgeous and worth every page.
Part of: Part of a series
Also Recommended: For more fairytales or tales with perhaps a Hindu flair please try the following: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor, The Orphan’s Tales beginning with In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh, Abandon by Meg Cabot, and The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan
4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks