When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. But instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle. Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi's all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men.
I received an advance review copy from publisher via NetGalley. A HUGE thank you to NetGalley & the publisher for this opportunity to read and review.
have read all of Moran’s novels. Early on in “Rebel Queen,” Moran shows familiar plot building: There’s the hard-working, self-sacrificing, humble main character; the ruthless antagonist; the noble
leader they both support; and an epic historical backdrop. Despite these familiar plot devices, this book is extremely captivating with thoughtful prose.
I love how Moran brings cultures to life and sees the world through her main character's eyes. It lets the reader experience new perspectives and traditions. I loved this novel and loved its storyteller, Sita. I really enjoyed learning about the all-female guard and the customs, the palace, the gods. I felt completely transported to the time and place. I delighted in the observations Sita made about Caucasian people – especially her horror that their skin changed red in color because of exposure to the sun! The way unfamiliar people and places were narrated came through clearly to readers but was also very culture in the way things were viewed and described. How Moran is able to balance this is comes from her amazing talent as a writer & a historian.
There is a lot of growth to the main character. You experience many transitions with her. From being a sheltered daughter unable to leave her house due to rules of “purdah,” training and becoming a guard for the queen, learning to live in a palace with its political gambles, becoming a confidant of a queen, even traveling to England and speaking with another queen, Sita has a lot to adapt to (and quickly!), which makes her story so hard to stop reading (why must I sleep??). You never know where the world is going to call her to next.
The prose of this book reads as if an elder is sharing a story with a child version of myself. There are pauses to explain traditions that are both factual and also bittersweet. Many of these traditions were lost after the revolution as the culture found itself scattered to the winds by the British overlords. So while you learn about details of the time and place, you also grasp what these things meant to the people of that time. It’s a beautifully personal exposition. There’s a lot of unfamiliar territory for someone like me, and Moran handles narrating descriptions and backstory well.
What I felt was missing: Sita putting her training into action. I do not want gory details, but I did want to see her briefly in action. (view spoiler)[ A little lead up to the final few paragraphs of the novel would have helped ease the reader into the final seconds of the queen’s life. It happened too suddenly, which I am sure is the point as this is how it happened for Sita. (hide spoiler)] It is implied that Sita and the captain of the guard fight close together. How did they work together in this aspect of their lives? Weapons at this time are much different that modern weapons that easily come to my mind, like the time it takes to load a pistol versus a bow. I wanted a little more battle action just to illustrate the grace and skill Sita had learned and developed. How did Sita’s skills as a Durga Dal manifest in the end? Whereas her sister had to learn to become a housewife (and its implied she struggled with some aspects), Sita had far different actions to learn which she did all in sacrifice for her family. The ending felt a bit deflated after chapters of buildup. Since the book is being advertised as bringing to life “India’s Joan of Arc,” there was an expectation that a good portion of the novel would center around the revolution led by the rani. While I loved the focus on the characters, I would have liked a little more action. I will read a 1000+ page book by Moran, so she should know it’s totally okay to keep the story going! Why must it end? Give us more of these vivid and wonderful characters!
Michelle Moran is brilliant. She chooses such interesting people from antiquity. I very much enjoy her writing style, plot development, and characterization. I am excited to see what she writes about with next!
"Descendants of Avalon"
Released via Inklings Publishing
("The Forgotten" volume 2)
Reviewed and awarded the
2016 Indie Editor's Choice
by the Historical Novel Society.
Long listed for the Historical Novel Society 2017 Indie Award.
Goodreads profile at: https://www.goodreads.com/JElse