Book Review: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

2.5

I’m long overdue a blogpost, and there are a few books I’ve read that I’ve been wanting to review, so I’m starting off with Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen.

When this book popped up on my Goodreads recommended reads, I thought it sounded interesting despite — or maybe because of — the fact that it revolved around Indian folklore and mythology. As an Indian, these are stories I’ve grown up reading, so I was curious to know how the author incorporated them into her own story.

After reading the book, I’m conflicted on how to rate and review it. The good part? I didn’t hate it. The bad? It has several problematic points.

Maya, a princess of the war-torn kingdom of Bharata, is hated by the other women of her father’s harem because she has an dark horoscope (“one that would partner her with death and destruction”), and the other women are afraid that Maya and her imminent misfortunes will taint their sons and daughters. Also, thanks to unfortunate horoscope, she is unmarried, despite her ‘advanced’ age.

Then, her father decrees she is to marry, and holds a swayamwar for her. A swayamwar is an ancient Indian practice where a woman can choose her own husband from a line-up of suitors. Though, since she usually doesn’t know any of them from Adam, saying she has a ‘choice’ is being too generous. Alternatively, the suitors compete in some form of feat of strength for the woman’s hand, and the one who wins the competition wins the right to marry her. Which means the woman has no choice anyway. However, I digress.

The king decrees Maya is to marry in order to save Bharata from more conflict. But in reality, Bharata’s enemies will wage war on it anyway, so Maya’s choice of bridegroom does not matter. Her father orders her to drink poison and commit suicide during the swayamwar instead of choosing a husband, which, according to him, is the perfect solution to the problem. Of course, just as she’s on the verge of actually consuming the poison (while arguing with herself about how she deserves to live rather than be used as a political pawn), she is rescued by Mysterious Love Interest™.

So far, not so uninteresting. That is, if you’ve managed to make peace with the writing style. The author’s intention is obviously to weave a richly descriptive, vibrant and vivid story. Sometimes, it sounds really beautiful. But mostly, it misses the mark because the writing is too dreamy, too drifty to make any sense of the plot.

Which brings us to the (non)plot. While I was going through the reviews for this book, I came across Goodreads user Cate (Paper Fury)’s review, and I don’t think you can find a more accurate summary of the plot than hers, so I’m going to quote her here:

“Maya has a sucky horoscope. Maya gets married to a mysterious magical boy. Maya sits in magical castle and does nothing. Maya distrusts magical boy. Maya ruins everything. Maya is sorry. THE END.”

The only thing I can add is that between “Maya is sorry” and “The End”, Maya goes on a convoluted quest to try and fix things. But it is only more of the nonsensical weirdness and flowery prose for the reader to deal with.

There is no character development for Maya, who seems to swing between clueless and stupid as often as she goes back and forth between liking Amar and not wanting him. Which is annoying, because written well, her character could be a good, complex one.

As for Amar, while the author probably intended to keep his Mr. Mysterious McMystery image going for as long as possible, his identity is immediately obvious to anyone who is familiar with Indian mythology.

*Warning: Mild spoilers ahead (Not marking it as a spoiler because it has no significant bearing on the plot).

Amar introduced himself as the king of Akaran. Akaran is “Naraka” spelt backwards, and Naraka in Hindi, Sanskrit, and certain other Indian languages means “hell” or “purgatory”. Also, Amar’s mount is a water buffalo. He’s the Indian god of death. Which explains Maya’s horoscope partnering her with death, destruction, et al.

Undertones of other Indian myths are also present in the story. The story of Savitri, who outsmarts death to save her husband’s life. The agni pariksha (trial by fire — mentioned in the Ramayan, one of the great Indian epics). The story of Narasimha, who tried to outwit death, but in the end, couldn’t escape it.

One of my main issues with the book was with the word “rakshas”, meaning demon. The author uses “rakshas” (pronounced “raak-shus”) as the plural, and “raksha” as the singular. However, “raksha” (pronounced “ruck-shaa”) means “protection” in Hindi, Sanskrit, and some other Indian languages, and this wrong usage completely changes the meaning of the sentence, and consequently the story.

It jars while reading, because you know that’s not the correct word. In my opinion, it would have been better for her to use “rakshas” as singular, and “rakshasas”, which is more widely used while writing in English, as the plural. There aren’t many instances of the word in the text, but wherever it pops up, it’s quite irritating.

If the author didn’t intend to specifically use “raksha” and “rakshas” the way she does, she really needs to do better research.

A disturbing thing about this book is that all the female characters with the exception of Maya, her younger half-sister Gauri, and her talking horse Kamala are all villains. Maya has no close female connections or friendships, except (briefly) Gauri, who she loves, and Kamala, who was perhaps the most entertaining character in the book. All other women mentioned hate Maya, and she hates them back.

I’m also not a fan of Maya and Amar’s insta-love, even though the author tries to show why there’s an instant spark between them. It pushes them further into the moulds of silly girl and man-who-takes-advantage-of-silly-girl.

The Star-Touched Queen gets two and a half stars for effort. That being said, I think I’ll still give the sequel, A Crown of Wishes, a shot.

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