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Book Review: The Star Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
Whether one likes the theme or not, there is at least one reason why this book should be read. Lyrical prose and visualization. No, it’s not purple prose, but given the nature of the story, its lyrical, feels poetic and is beautiful. The prose has got a sense of urgency, and is unlike the verbiage of purple prose which is laid back. The lyrical prose has an attitude. While reading this book, don’t worry about the “mythology”, don’t worry about whether the story is true to the “mythology” part, don’t worry if there are inconsistencies of scenes or even the element of hilarity amidst apparent seriousness. Read it for the fundamental reason of reading fiction – the pleasure of reading through wonderful prose… and it does have a story.
Let me quote a few lines:
“… 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.”
or take this one:
“I loved the feeling of discovery, of not knowing how much I wanted something until I had discovered its absence”
and this one:
“There was another sorrow, tucked beneath my surprise. Although, I had never envisioned marriage, I had thought of love… What I wanted was a connection, a shared heartbeat that kept rhythm across oceans and worlds… I wanted a love thick with time, as inscrutable as if a lathe had carved it from night and as familiar as the marrow in my bones. I wanted the impossible, which made it that much easier to push out of my mind.”
Roshani Chokshi is able to wonderfully weave a story relating to the Queen of the netherworld. It’s primarily a quest fantasy about one’s identity and trying to overcome the inner demon of ones doubts and indecision, which in overt sense becomes a quest fantasy to get one’s lost love, to stand up to the expectations of the trust of love.
It is a pure fantasy, and only those who are interested in such a genre would be able to appreciate it. The problem with such books that are publicised as based of mythology of certain culture and as story of diversity, the writing itself gets lost, and the book starts to be evaluated from the politics of the culture from which the story is derived. And it is besides, the character itself that may not stand the scrutiny of the modern concept of womanhood.
Woman in our times is strong, independent, and opinionated. While in the stories from the past, woman is never complete without man, the concept of completion arising from “ardhnarieshwar” (the lord who is half man and half woman). Now a days, many people, may disagree or even look down at such concepts or viewpoints.
While those who are not accustomed to the cultural elements of Hinduism, may find this work as enthusiastic and artistic or even derogatory, depending on their inclining ideology, those who have been raised within such Eastern culture, would often colour their reading of book like this from their own understanding of these stories that they have been hearing since childhood, and for whom the story elements do not contain any novelty, but who may even be shocked by the liberality or casualness with which characters or places have been played. Either way, the book opens up many critical avenues to get thrashed at many levels.
Going by the name of main character (MC), Maya (Mayawati), which means illusion in Hindi, the book traverses through a creation that is literally illusion, and that includes the glass portals, the use of threads, and their tangling and untangling or breaking, as source of life or death or manipulation of life itself. At one level, the book may look as fatalistic. The book itself derives from some of the traditional stories relating to Yamaraj, the lord of Narak (netherworld). The wordplay of Akaran (this word means “for no reason”) and Naraka I found a bit childish, but anyway…
I for one am not interested in the story from the mythological aspect. When we see this book devoid of the weight of cultural mythology and traditional names or the ideological divides of our times, the beauty of the book as pure fantasy starts to unravel itself in its lyrical beauty. Two things attracted me. The way the author was able to keep the suspense alive till the very end (despite, that one knew the predictable ending), and secondly the transition of the character in different situations / realms, I think have been well handled.
The limiting aspect has been character development, whether of the main character or any other. In fact, in certain scenes, the MC herself acknowledges that things have moved in her life without her active involvement and she has only kept responding to situations that has arisen. It’s only in the latter half of the book that the MC tries to take charge of herself. However, this turns itself into a quest fantasy to restore one’s love that the MC has lost because of her stupidity and foolhardiness in not being able to trust people around her, and her inability to take decisions. Seen this way the MC is weak, because she cannot stand on her own judgements.
While reading this book, I felt, it might have been much better if the author had broken herself from the limiting aspects of the mythology part. That might have given her a better latitude in handling the story -that could have really flowered the creative fervour with which the story has been written.
The way of writing is very visual, considering this is being written about the king and queen of the realm of dead, it has been done pretty well, mostly through descriptive format of first person viewpoint. The lyrical and visual aspect of writing presents even the world of death as pulsating alive. At times one may feel as if one is in a realm of intermittent dream. Overall, a very wonderful book to read.
The book has a spin off in form of “A Crown of Wishes”, which I have, but have not read till now. Currently I am looking forward to release of “Aru Shah and the End of Time” which is middle grade (MG) book under the Rick Riordan production, and is to be released in 2018. From what I have heard about the book, it’s going to be as entertaining as Percy Jackson.
Copyright © Anup Mukherjee
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