“Something tugged at me. The pull was far stronger than fear or attraction—it was ambition. The court of Bharata didn’t expect me to be anything other than a pawn. But Amar was asking for more. He wanted my opinions, my thoughts. He wasn’t offering me a prized seat among his wives. He was asking me to rule.”
Maya, a princess of Bharata, has lived her life in the harem of her father’s court. With her mother dead in childbirth, the other wives of the harem should have served as surrogate mothers, but Bharata is ruled by superstition, and Maya is born with a terrible horoscope that foretells death and destruction in her marriage. Shunned as ill-luck, she leads a separate existence, often sneaking into the library, or climbing into the rafters to observe the operations of her father’s throne room. Given her horoscope, she expects never to marry, but the Raja is not a superstitious man, and Maya finds herself sacrificed to a political marriage. Her new husband, Amar, is the Raja of Akaran, an odd little kingdom she has never heard of. Yet it pulls at her memory, as if she had known it in a past life. But Akaran is also full of secrets, and soon Maya begins to suspect those secrets may be dangerous, not just to her, but to all of Bharata.
Maya arrives in Akaran shortly after the new moon. She has many questions about her new home, but a magical binding prevents her husband and his advisor, Gupta, from revealing any of the realm’s secrets until the next new moon. This is a convenient device that quickly grows tiresome. Maya is constantly asked to trust a man she has known for a matter of days, and soon she begins to chafe against the uncertainty. Akaran is obviously dangerous, but soon she begins to wonder if Amar fears what might happen to her there, or what she might discover.
The book is divided into two sections, entitled “The Lost Princess,” and “The Forgotten Queen.” In many respects, they feel like two entirely different stories. The first part of the narrative is flavours of Eros and Psyche meets Bluebeard. Amar always wears a hood, not revealing his full face to his new bride. His large palace is evidently magical, but Maya is almost always escorted through it by Gupta or Amar, and asked to keep away from locked doors. Naturally, those doors seem to call to her. Maya’s attraction to Amar is understandably tamped down by the secrecy and distrust, making it difficult to get on board with the romance.
The second part of the narrative is a sharp contrast to the first. Maya finds herself on her own as a result of her actions, and “The Forgotten Queen” is more of a traditional hero’s journey or quest. It also pits Maya’s old loyalties to Bharata against her new obligations to Akaran. In this section we meet a number of mythological creatures, including Airavata, who spins bridges of clouds between worlds, and my personal favourite, Kamala, a feisty, flesh-eating demon that takes the form of a horse. Kamala barters her services in exchange for an agreement that she can take a bite out of Maya if she fails her quest. This makes for a fraught and unexpectedly humourous dynamic between the two.
Roshani Chokshi has crafted an enticing magical world that draws on mythology in intriguing ways. But The Star-Touched Queen is marred by the lacklustre romance, and the disjointed nature of the two parts of the narrative.
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