Jan. 27th, 2017

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The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi's first novel, is a romance-centred fantasy based on Hindu history, religion, myths and folktales. It is a delightful read - Chokshi's prose is rich and smooth, and her protagonist, the princess Mayavati of Bharata, is an enchanting character from the first time we see her, hiding behind a screen to watch the funeral of one of her father's wives.

In short order we learn that Maya is the only unbetrothed daughter of her father the raja, that she survived her mother's death in childbirth, that she has an unfortunate horoscope that warns of a marriage connected to death, and that she is a bright, strong willed, independent young woman who has some mysterious magical/mystical past/destiny that she is wholly unaware of. Growing up with the knowledge that no one would want to marry someone with a horoscope as disastrous as hers, she has imagined herself with a future outside the harem, perhaps even in a position of power and authority in her country.

Then it all changes. In order to bring peace to a war-torn country, her father announces that she will marry one of the leaders of their enemies, although he promises to allows her to make her own choice from among the suitors. But afterwards he tells her privately that it is all a ruse to lure his enemies to the palace, and that he expects her to kill herself so he has a pretext to destroy them.

When a dashing and mysterious suitor calling himself Amar interrupts her attempted sacrifice and promises to take her to his kingdom where she will rule beside him, Maya goes with him rather than take her own life. But Amar is not what he appears to be, his kingdom is not an earthly one, and he is somehow connected to the mysterious hints she has received concerning her past.

I must admit that even without much knowledge of Hindu religious symbolism, I figured out the basics of the mystery of Amar and her connection with him long before it was revealed in the text. But it was still an engaging, though not particularly demanding read.

Light, romantic fantasies often leave out the difficult issues. A review of the book by Samira Nadkarni [1] that addresses the ways in which Chokshi handled the historical and religious source material, points out some of the problematic areas, notably the exclusion of India's diverse peoples - the book presents everyone as Hindu - and the omission of issues of caste and class, and a downplaying of the sexism that pervades much of the source material.

The Star-Touched Queen is a light and enjoyable read, but I would urge readers to look at critical reviews such as Nadkarni's to gain more perspective.

[1] http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/reviews/the-star-touched-queen-by-roshani-chokshi/

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