The description for Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen immediately drew me in from its promise of examining ideas related to fate to its origins in Indian mythology—an ancient mythology I am pretty much entirely unfamiliar with having had an education that focused primarily on the ancient mythologies of Western cultures. Because of this, I cannot attest to how heavily it draws from or relies on those deities and myths, but I can say that knowing next to nothing did not deter my enjoyment and appreciation for the story being told.
Born to the Raja of Bharata, Mayavati (Maya) is largely ostracized by the women in her father’s harem—his wives and her half-sisters—because of her horoscope and the fact that unfortunate things seem to befall those around her. At seventeen, Maya has long been spying on her father’s court and the diplomacy that takes place there. But war has raged for many years and it seems that peace can only be bartered through Maya’s marriage to a man from one of the other kingdoms—except there appears to be no choice that will not be viewed as a slight to one or more of the other kingdoms. When Maya is left to make her choice, an unexpected option presents itself in the form of Amar, the Raja of Akaran—a kingdom Maya does not recognize. Akaran proves to be a realm between worlds and Amar is not allowed to divulge its secrets to Maya until the next moon cycle. This proves long enough for doubt and suspicion to burrow into Maya and Amar’s relationship and wreaking havoc across many worlds and realms in the process.
There is something about Chokshi’s prose that is inherently lyrical and grounds the text in its mythic origins. Beginning in the very real and relatable realm of Bharata, the more fantastic elements weave their way into the text gradually until Maya and the reader finally arrive at Akaran and are solidly in a more abstract, otherworldly place. The transition takes place smoothly lulling both the reader and Maya into a sense of complacency that takes a while for her to question.
Even before they arrive in Akaran, Maya is hesitant with Amar. She realizes there is more to his story—and to their story—than what he is telling her and she can only accept his excuse that they must wait until the next moon cycle for so long before she begins to not just suspect something of him but resent him for keeping the truth from her. The nature of trust and love are explored as Maya becomes aware of her full history with Amar as well as how easy it can be to let the seeds of doubt flourish and fester in a relationship, leading to its destruction from within. But much of Maya’s journey—especially in the second half of the novel—focuses on finding oneself and how to move on and heal from such hurt, both individually and together.
Riddles and perspective appear throughout the story as part of the conversation dealing with fate and the meaning of Maya’s horoscope. The use of mirrors as portals between realms and appearance versus reality within the Night Bazaar and Akaran add to the exploration of perspective. It is through perspective that these ultimately tie back to what happened in Maya’s previous life and how she is tied to Amar. But all of this is difficult to explain without giving away too much of the plot.
The Star-Touched Queen wasn’t entirely what I was expecting when I started reading it, but there are many layers to the text that reminded me of books I read and analyzed in some of my literature classes back in college—there is a lot to tease out thematically and I know that there are even more layers that I’m missing simply because I lack the knowledge of the original mythology.
The Star-Touched Queen will be available for purchase April 26, 2016.