Book Review: The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi (2016)

April 22nd, 2016 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

Oh my stars!

five out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through NetGalley.)

Staring at the sky in Bharata was like exchanging a secret. It felt private, like I had peered through the veil of a hundred worlds. When I looked up, I could imagine—for a moment—what the sky hid from everyone else. I could see where the winds yawned with silver lips and curled themselves to sleep. I could glimpse the moon folding herself into crescents and half-smiles. When I looked up, I could imagine an existence as vast as the sky. Just as infinite. Just as unknown.

“I want your perspective and honesty,” he said, before adding in a softer voice, “I want to be humbled by you.”

Heat flared in my cheeks. I paused, the stick in my hand falling a fraction. Perspective and honesty? Humbled by me? Rajas never asked for anything other than sons from their consorts.

“My kingdom needs a queen,” he said. “It needs someone with fury in her heart and shadows in her smile. It needs someone restless and clever. It needs you.”

“You know nothing about me.”

“I know your soul. Everything else is an ornament.”

In the kingdom of Bharata, seventeen-year-old Mayavati is known as “the one with the horoscope” – cursed by cold, distant stars that promise a marriage of Death and Destruction. Maya is something of an outcast; though her father the Raj doesn’t place any credence in such superstitions, the Raj’s harem and the larger realm believe that one’s horoscope speaks the truth, if only we mortals deign to listen. And so Maya is scorned, treated like an outcast and a pariah, and blamed for the realm’s misfortunes, large and small.

Yet her morbid horoscope also promises Maya a life of (relative) freedom: unlike her many half-sisters, Maya is not expected to marry. Instead, she delves into academia, burying her nose in the kingdom’s dusty archives and delighting in chasing away a series of stuffy old tutors. She looks forward to becoming a “scholarly old maid” – better than being sold into a marriage of political convenience, just one of many wives left to beg scraps of attention from a near-stranger, no?

But Bharata is a kingdom in the midst of a protracted war, and Maya is currently the only unwed daughter of marriageable age. The Raj does the unthinkable: invites the leaders of the rebel groups to Bharata to court his daughter. But things quickly go from bad to worse as the Raj reveals the real reason for the surprise swayamvara: it’s simply a trap, meant to gather the Raj’s enemies in one place so that he can slay them. But not before Maya commits suicide by poison, thus nullifying the temporary treaty.

With the help of a mesmerizing stranger named Amar, Maya manages to escape – just barely. Her new husband whisks her away to his kingdom, Akaran, a magical place that sits in the space between the Otherworld and the human realm. Maya is understandably enchanted – and suspicious: especially since Amar is prohibited from telling Maya anything of her new kingdom until the moon passes through a cycle. In a palace decorated with mirror portals to other worlds and iron-clad doors that jump from place to place, little is as it seems: least of all the Raj, and Maya’s role in his grand plan.

The Star-Touched Queen is simply amazing. First of all, the writing! THE WRITING. In a word, Chokshi’s prose is sumptuous: like a moist, decadent, double-decker chocolate fudge cake smothered in vanilla almond buttercream frosting. Luxurious, richly textured, with layers upon layers of flavors and the occasional unexpected choice of ingredient. So tasty I could almost eat it up (and lick the plate clean).

Though it’s highly entertaining and speeds by rather quickly, The Star-Touched Queen isn’t the sort of book you should read while tired or distracted; it’s lovely and just challenging enough that it deserves your full attention. And while it’s true that I needed to whip out ye ole dictionary once or twice (or maybe a dozen times), Chokshi doesn’t beat you about the head and body with her superior wordiness. It’s challenging, yes, but also accessible.

I don’t know if “literary fantasy” is widely accepted as a genre, but this is it.

Also, the plot is wholly unexpected and full of twists and turns and “omg, that escalated quickly!” moments. There’s an especially exciting twist around the 60% mark that cleaves the book in two – much like the life-altering tapestry in Akaran’s throne room. The Star-Touched Queen almost feels like two stories, brought together in an omnibus edition. It’s really rather breathtaking, particularly in the timing: just as you wonder how much longer Chokshi will draw out Maya’s self-discovery, she turns heel and changes tack like that (*snapping fingers*).

And the characters! Oh, the characters! Maya and Amar are lovely and fierce and tragically flawed – but not irredeemably so. Their love had me swooning, and as a general rule, I am not the swoony type. It was breathtaking watching them find each other, lose each other, and find each other again.

Maya’s younger half-sister Gauri is adorable … and then fierce in her own right. I adore what Chokshi did with the character, as well as Maya’s reaction to said development. You can see more than a little of Maya in grown-up Gauri, and Maya treats her accordingly, with the respect and admiration she so clearly deserves. With the respect and admiration Maya herself should have received while living in Bharata.

And Kamala? She’s a snarky, sarcastic, soul-eating demon horse. Need I say more?

I could gush about The Star-Touched Queen for days, but better if you discover all its shiny bits on your own.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)


Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Yes. Inspired by Indian mythology, the story seems set in ancient India. Accordingly, all of the characters (save maybe for Nritti) are described as having dark skin, eyes, and hair.

Animal-friendly elements: A little. Gupta, Amar’s assistant and scribe, has conversed with nonhuman animals (e.g. mollusks), which suggests that they are sentient. Also, Amar tests Maya by handing her a sword and challenging her to use it on a stone (yet magical, and thus very realistic) bird that’s chained to a marble podium. Thinking she has no choice, she smashes the bird where it stands, leading to this exchange:

“Swords could also be used for freeing. You could’ve cut through the chain around the bird’s foot and set it free. Swords could be used for killing. But it needn’t be the bird. Wouldn’t the more merciful choice have been to use the sword against the oppressor?”

Oh, and Kamala the soul-eating demon horse rocks.


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