Title: The Star-Touched Queen (2016)
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 342 pages
Release Date: April 26, 2016
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.
The moment I tucked into The Star-Touched Queen and read a couple paragraphs, I knew I was in for a wild ride. This book was a lovely mix of mythology and drama, a story inspired by Indian folklore and somewhat based on Greek mythology — specifically the story of Hades, the god of the underworld, and Persephone, who in the original myth was abducted by Hades to live with him.
Chokshi’s writing was great from the very start: elegant, imaginative, descriptive but not overly so. It was also incredibly easy to get into, which I appreciate, because fantasy books tend to go on and on setting the stage and are at a high risk of becoming boring (like A Game of Thrones, personally speaking), but not this one. This one, however, is descriptive but also evocative — case in point, this is the opening paragraph:
Staring at the sky in Bharata was like exchanging a secret. It felt private, like I had peered through the veil of a hundred worlds. When I looked up, I could imagine—for a moment—what the sky hid from everyone else. I could see where the winds yawned with silver lips and curled themselves to sleep. I could glimpse the moon folding herself into crescents and half-smiles. When I looked up, I could imagine an existence as vast as the sky. Just as infinite. Just as unknown.
The world-building was vivid. This was a world inspired by Indian culture, and while I’m not familiar with it enough to speak on its authenticity, what’s in this book is gripping, captivating. In saying that, however, the magic system was left largely unexplained — we never found out why things work the way they do, only that they do.
Now, depending on the kind of reader you are, you might not mind and even enjoy this. For me, it was a bit of a negative, but not too much — I prefer powers that make sense and have limitations and so would love a bit more explanation, but I could also suspend disbelief and just ignore all the unanswered questions popping in my head.
Our protagonist, Maya, is a seventeen-year-old princess cursed with a horoscope that spells death. In the court of the king, she is feared and hated, especially by her father’s other wives — yet she’s tenacious, independent, and able to take care of herself. She doesn’t give up hope when things go from bad to worse, and she doesn’t shy away from danger if it promises her a better life.
“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, which made it that much easier to push out of my mind.”
Apart from Maya, unfortunately, the other characters fell short. There wasn’t much information on anyone else, and in that sense, they also didn’t develop at all. We mostly only get to see Amar, who also wasn’t developed that much and was (I feel) a bit over-the-top with his expressions of love and emotions. For example, this scene below happened several days (or was it hours? I think hours) of him meeting Maya:
“I want your perspective and honesty,” he said, before adding in a softer voice, “I want to be humbled by you.”
Heat flared in my cheeks. I paused, the stick in my hand falling a fraction. Perspective and honesty? Humbled by me? Rajas never asked for anything other than sons from their consorts.
“My kingdom needs a queen,” he said. “It needs someone with fury in her heart and shadows in her smile. It needs someone restless and clever. It needs you.”
“You know nothing about me.”
“I know your soul. Everything else is an ornament.”
Maybe that’s just me, but when someone says something like this too soon, it kind of bugs me. It felt too… cheap? It sounds really romantic, true, but it also lacks depth in context. This was the second reason why I took a star off: I’m not super sold on the romance. There was a major case of insta-love between Amar and Maya, and [spoiler] even after knowing their full reincarnation story, I still wasn’t convinced. [/end spoiler] Personally I would have loved to see more of the ‘getting to know each other’ part before the loud declarations of undying love and devotion came out, and unfortunately the latter really took over.
I actually hovered between a 3-star and a 4-star for this book, but overall I enjoyed The Star-Touched Queen. Entertainment’s pretty much the number one reason why I read, so this book was right up my alley in that regards. Four stars it is! 🙂
Have you read this book yet? Link me to your review or let me know in the comments!
May 19, 2016: After much (MUCH) consideration, I’ve decided to lower this rating from 4 stars to 3. Although I loved the writing and generally enjoyed this book, it just didn’t live up to my other four-star reads.