“The stars, filled with cold light and secrets, held no emotion in their fixed language of fate. Emotion belonged to life, a thing the stars could never experience. I, not the starlight, shaped my decisions.” – Roshani Chokshi, The Star-Touched Queen
As some of you may know, I have officially joined the Instagram (or bookstagram) as @onepageatatime_books. I read The Star-Touched Queen as part of the Court of Books and Readers July Reading challenge. I was very excited to read this book – A retelling of Hades and Persephone. Between the combination of its gorgeous cover, raving reviews and the promise of a plot steeped in Indian folklore and mythology, it hardly seemed like I couldn’t like it.
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire… But Akaran has its own secrets — thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.
I have a love-hate relationship with this book. lately, I’ve found that I just keep being disappointed by the stories in books, especially those of the retelling genre. The Star-Touched Queen, like many others, has a promising premise, plenty of intrigue and a rich background. The writing style is eloquent and beautiful. And yet still, the story itself felt like a rushed patchwork when I came to the end, leaving me feeling somewhat let-down by the conclusion.
To begin with specifics, the characters in this book (of which there were few worth noting) were richly drawn and well fleshed out, which I did enjoy. One distinct complaint I had about the characters was the distinct lack of character development – Maya and Amar are much unchanged, which adds to the monotony of this book.
- Maya, the clear protagonist of the tale, is an interesting character who had a tough childhood on account of being curse with a horoscope that tells of a marriage paired with death and destruction. Everyone assumes that this means she will kill, be killed, or put in motion the events which leads to her partner’s death. Even though Maya was paired with such a devastating horoscope, she grew up to be a strong, independent woman. She sees a marriage-less life as a blessing to pursue independent studies and spy on the men while they play at politics. Therefore, when her father sets up a marriage of political importance, Maya is understandably less than thrilled, and hardly willing to give up what little power she wields in the world to a husband she barely knows.
- The husband she barely knows is none other than Amar. Amar is tall, dark and mysterious, but it is his promise of letting Maya serve as his equal, as his Queen, which secures his marriage bid. Maya accompanies Amar to Akaran, a court full of mysteries and locked doors, yet void of subjects. Amar is clearly hiding secrets darker than either the reader or Maya initially expect; however after a couple chapters his true identity becomes glaringly obvious, unfortunately. Amar doesn’t really reveal any “hidden depth”; he’s basically an open book once his true identity is revealed, and with it, his motivations. Which was actually very disappointing- he had way more going for him (as a character) when his motivations were hidden and likely sinister.
Personally, it was the middle of the book that ruined it for me. Once Maya becomes the queen of Akaran, the plot meanders and we are taken on repetitive tours of Amar’s palace, which seemingly lead nowhere, since Maya either does not care, or is too dense, to work out the riddles in the air, which the reader works out several dozen pages ahead of her. And yet, somehow, despite this meandering plot, Maya still undergoes hardly any character development, despite this downtime being an ideal opportunity to throw some in.
Finally, the way in which women are portrayed in this book is, generally, very derogatory and negative. I understand that the setting of the tale clearly has some influence on this book, and yet still, I am let-down by the lack of strong female character. Maya herself is easily manipulated and primarily dependent upon the male characters in her life for, well, everything. The majority of the other female characters are concubines of Maya’s father, in addition to being sadistic, cruel and lewd. Truly, the only strong female character in this entire novel was Kamala, and she’s a horse for crying out loud!
This book just wasn’t for me. Perhaps I’ve just become disenchanted with the retelling genre, but I feel that it’s more than that. This book simply lacked depth. While the prose was beautifully written, the story just didn’t inspire any emotion. The characters were initially well drawn, but the lack of development left them feeling flat and uninspiring. I really wanted to love this book, but there was just so little going on that I couldn’t find anything to truly love.