Title: The Star-Touched Queen (2016)
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Read: 26th – 27th February 2019
Genre: fantasy; young-adult; mythology
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
“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.“ (Synopsis from publisher)
Riding high on the wave of just how much I loved Roshani Chokshi’s The Gilded Wolves, I decided to pick up The Star-Touched Queen, a book I had vaguely heard about thanks to Booktube but I couldn’t remember why. A quick look into the book had me discovering something that gave me extraordinarily high hopes for the book: it was a Hades/Persephone retelling. I low-key have A Thing for Hades/Persephone retellings, partly due to Pinterest and partly because I’ve been imagining my own Hades/Persephone retelling, with Cate Blanchett as Hades, that I may very well write properly one day – but I digress.
” ‘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.’ “
We see the story through the first person perspective of Maya, daughter of the Raja of Bharata, a girl whose horoscope foretells bad fortune and (rumours say) death in her future – it’s written in her stars, something which makes Maya curse the very stars themselves. In order to hopefully appease rebel leaders and reunite his kingdom, the Raja offers up his daughter’s hand in marriage to suitors but everything isn’t as it seems and a much deadlier promise is lurking behind this arrangement, something that makes Maya plan to run away. A dark, hooded intruder named Amar, ruler of Akaran, “helps” to whisk her away from the path the Raja had envisaged for her, taking her to a kingdom entirely unlike anything she has experienced before, or so it seems.
“For instance, etiquette demands I tell you that you look lovely and compliment your demure. But that wouldn’t be the truth. … you look neither lovely nor demure. You look like edges and thunderstorms. And I would not have you any other way.”
When it came to the characters, from the very beginning I appreciate Maya’s strength. We open in the story with her terrorising her tutors so that they will storm out on their lessons and so she can divert her attentions instead to climbing into the rafters and spying on her father’s court. Given that the story is experience through Maya’s perspective, it’s easy to quickly feel on-side with her as her journey begins. The hooded stranger stays mysterious for a good portion of the novel, but anyone aware that this is partly a Hades/Persephone retelling can surely guess at Amar’s likely identity. He offers Maya something she’s longed for but never had – her freedom, providing she will be the queen his kingdom sorely needs. I found that the development of the relationship between them was lovely, and even though Amar was clearly hiding parts of his home and kingdom from her, I expected it given the nature of the retelling.
“Go. Be who you will be. Do not waste your life mourning the dead.”
Unfortunately, when all is said and done, I actually ended up loving the first half of this book a lot more than the second. Without being too spoiler-y, I found the introduction of the Nritti subplot to be not particularly my jam, meaning the entire ‘part two’ section wasn’t altogether my favourite. I suppose I adored the slow setup of the story between Maya and Amar but didn’t enjoy when it was complicated further! One of my favourite scenes in the entire book involved Maya being presented with a conjured, chained creature and given a sword – she is not told what to do with the sword, but she makes a (difficult) decision how to use it, and in doing so fails to grasp Amar’s entire point of testing her in such a way. When situations such as this are presented, there may very well be different ways to interpret it and to act – a sword can kill, but it could also cut away someone’s shackles, just as stars and horoscopes can be reinterpreted even when they seem to only present one option. It’s all a matter of interpretation and the languid tone and pacing of Chokshi’s writing perfectly suits this kind of subtext.
” ‘I don’t see any happy way to explain death and destruction.’
‘Doesn’t death make room for life? Autumn trees die to make room for new shoots. And destruction is part of that cycle. After all, a devastating forest fire lets the ground start anew.’ “
Regardless of how I felt about the latter half of the book, The Star-Touched Queen wasn’t quite like anything I’d ever read before. I will admit that sometimes her characters and the Otherworld settings felt shadowy or just out of reach (and this won’t be for everything), but I felt that was a conscious choice rather than a deficiency in charaterisation, development, or writing abilities. I didn’t know where the story was going, and I didn’t expect the journey it led me on but one thing is for sure: Roshani Chokshi’s poetic and luxurious writing style perfectly matched the dark story she was telling of death and destruction, fate and fixed stars, horoscopes and forging your own path, fate be damned.
“All I had done was curse the stars from a distance. I’d never thought to reinterpret what they meant.”