Finding a fantasy novel to relax with and enjoy often proves difficult for me. My tastes are just conservative and old-fashioned in most areas, and that is not generally what draws people to the genre. I’m too soft for much of the adult fantasy and far too old for young adult fantasy that involves characters whipping their shirts off every other chapter, although I try to remind myself that those love stories are more appealing if your hormones are raging and you’ve had ten consecutive hours of sleep in the last year. I don’t enjoy gratuitous anything – sex, violence, descriptions of scenery. All that is to say that I have been hard pressed lately to find a fantasy story worth losing a few of the precious hours of sleep that my daughter allots me each night. But, in devouring The Star-Touched Queen, I willingly saw midnight more than once.
Maya is cursed with a horoscope that ties her to a marriage of death and destruction and makes an outcast of her. She is trapped in her father’s harem with a life of solitary scholarly pursuit as the most she is hoping for. But the war her land is fighting takes a sudden political turn and forces her to make a decision which throws the course of her life in what she thinks is a radically different direction. Marriage to Amar promises freedom and power in the land of Akaran, a world seemingly not ruled by the vagaries of horoscopes. Maya must learn that the stars are never wrong, but people can be and that interpretation is everything.
More like poetry than prose, this story has lyricism in every line. Frequently while reading I would pause to take the words in again, needing a moment to peel back the layers and savor the taste of them in my mind. While I flew through the story, I couldn’t rush the imagery. The imagination behind each scene left my mind reeling at times with pictures it couldn’t have made on its own. The world is a malleable thing in Chokshi’s hands, and she remakes it into a place vivid and alive with myths.
Now this story had the potential to turn into an angsty teenage passion fest because Maya is seventeen and there is a love story, albeit a backwards one. However, underneath the teenage girl is a woman of power and decision waiting to reemerge, and the passionate dance between the two is balanced by a marriage, stretching back in time, that refuses to be shattered by mistakes. Maya is ruthless and wise, unwavering in her love, sometimes blinded by her pride, but she always remained interesting.
The element that made this story so different for me was the thing that left me feeling both inadequate and intrigued – the rich Hindu mythology that grounded an otherwise weightless story. I could feel its presence haunting the story, but I didn’t know enough to identify any of the individual myths. It turns out that Roshoni Chokshi answered a question on this very topic on the Goodreads page for this book, and it is a great jumping off point to learn more.