A Refreshingly Good Fairytale
An enthralling, beautifully crafted YA fantasy—laced with Indian lore and memorable characterization.
Gauri is a betrayed and deposed princess, determined to reclaim her kingdom from the clutches of her corrupt brother. Vikram is the adopted son of an eccentric king, determined to prove his worthiness before he assumes the throne. And The Lord of Wealth just might be willing to grant them favor… if they don’t kill each other, first.
Chokshi’s prose is something akin to literary painting. Delivering both broad and fine strokes, working a keen depth and vibrancy into every description and character. With steady pacing, distinct character voices, and lingering profundity, it trends more toward the lilting than the verbose. Such lovely and thoroughly quotable writing is a rarity.
The romance is as exceptional as it is enjoyable. Beginning from a place of assassination-at-first-sight (on Gauri’s overtly aggressive part), readers are treated to a slow-burn attraction that is gradually built through companionable shared goals. The catalyst of magical insight into each other’s painful pasts lends their relationship a vulnerability and intimacy that neither chose, and yet both must choose how to utilize. This reader is, admittedly, a sucker for seeing a strong alpha female offset and complemented by a witty, cunning beta male. And that is essentially what we have here. The Fox Prince and the warrior princess ‘Jewel of Bharata’—a chemistry that begs to be remembered.
I may have swooned a little. >.>
Note: I am NOT, generally speaking, a swooner.
Really, it’s the banter between them that got me. I don’t think I’ve ever so looked forward to two people bickering.
"You're welcome, by the way, for dragging you back here. I had a couple offers to sell you and almost considered it."
"Intriguing. For how much?"
"A bag of gold, the ability to make thunderstorms go to sleep. Something else. Five goats?"
"Just five goats? I'm worth at least ten. Plus a cow."
"They say morning light reveals a woman's true nature. My condolences to your future consort."
"It's too early in the morning for bloodshed," I groaned.
While I could understand and somewhat relate to Gauri, her myopic tendencies and quick temper sometimes made it a frustrating chore to be in her head.
"My intentions might have been rooted in good, but they always grew thorns in the end."
Vikram, on the other hand, was a joy. Philosophical, whimsical, and borderline lackadaisical—he has a delightfully unique temperament for a hero. The way he uses humor to deflect and process his real emotions both rings true and resonates tellingly with everyone around him.
“The truth was that he was not afraid of being seen for what he was. He was afraid of being seen as someone who could never be more."
My only qualm would have to be the worldbuilding. Not that it wasn’t intricate and fascinating—particularly with all the interwoven bits of Hindu mythology. No, the issue was more one of uncertainty regarding the magical elements. Once our hero and heroine leave their natural world and enter the fantastical realm of Alaka, the rules of engagement turn decidedly murky. It often felt as though anything could happen for almost any reason, and our protagonists—never mind the readers—couldn’t hope to guess at the rules and limitations of the unhuman inhabitants of this haphazardly wonderous place. (i.e. think ancient Indian version of Alice in Wonderland.) Readers may sometimes be confused over how to gauge possible danger, and just how permeant consequences may be, while the setting remains in Alaka—which does constitute roughly 2/3rds of the book. I’d recommend going into this story aware you may have to just go with the flow.
This book stands alone perfectly well. I have yet to read The Star-Touched Queen, and at no point did I suspect I was missing anything from it. I am, however, intrigued enough that I’d be willing to go back and give it a try.
*"Maybe that's why the best laughs tend to break free on the edge of lightless horror. Only then can they give wings to a drooping spirit."