“The Star-Touched Queen” by Roshani Chokshi
St. Martin’s Griffin, 342 pages, $18.99, 2016, Goodreads
It has been a while since I’ve read something as beautiful as “The Star-Touched Queen.” Chokshi is an amazing storyteller who uses magical prose to create a world of such mythos and wonder that brings to life characters who are both relatable but out of this world. I could not put this book down. I found myself reading it during commercial breaks while I watched television, sneaking a chapter or two at work, and staying up way past my bedtime to finish just one more chapter.
The main character is Maya, a princess of the Bharata kingdom who has been doomed by her unfortunately disastrous horoscope. It tells that Maya will come in contact with Death and, thus, bring destruction and darkness to the world. As such, the women of the harem avoid her and exchange dirty glances and secrets of which she is the topic. The only one who loves her unconditionally is her sister Gauri, who sneaks into Maya’s room every night so that Maya can tell her a story of the Otherworld, its creatures, and the kingdom of Naraka. The kingdom of death.
Maya is forced by her father to choose a groom from among their kingdom’s enemies, hoping that it will foster peace. The real plan is for Maya to kill herself so that her father’s army can take hostage all the leaders of his enemy kingdoms and defeat them once and for all. Maya must sacrifice her life for the good of her people. However, just as chaos is about to erupt on Maya’s wedding day another suitor presents himself, Amar. Maya ultimately chooses him and he steals her away to his kingdom of Akaran where she will be a queen treated with loyalty and equality. As soon as she arrives there, though; she knows that not is all as it may seem, especially her new husband Amar.
Through her trials Maya learns to trust who she was, is and will be, and finally realizes that who she is will only be decided by her and her alone. Chokshi uses such beautiful, fresh language to create this wonderful world inspired by Indian culture and lore. Maya’s journey of self-discovery reminded me of the journeys taken within the ancient texts of the “Ramayana” and the “Mahabharata,” echoing the same feeling of wonder and unquestioned magic. Each page, creature, and landscape came alive just from the author’s words and descriptions creating such a enchanted world filled with awe in my mind.
Maya’s escape to the kingdom of Akaran mirrored my own escape into the pages of this lovely tome. I absolutely recommend this book to any who love adventure and ancient cultures as well as those who are fans of “Aladdin,” “A Thousand and One Nights” and the “An Ember in the Ashes” series.
I hope so fervently that Chokshi will be writing something new soon because I have no doubt that any future piece she creates will be as magnetic, incredible, and otherworldly as this novel. You can find her on Twitter at @NotRashKnee and on Instagram @roshanichokshi.