Tag Archives: royalty

The Star Touched Queen

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi 25203675

Summary

Maya is the pariah of her father’s court. Destined for death and destruction, she is left to books and study until it becomes politically necessary to marry her off. As queen of Akaran, she finds a realm unlike any she ever expected – as well as love, and compassion. But Akaran and Amar have secrets and Maya chooses to unravel them herself rather than ask her husband for answers…with terrible consequences.

star-touched queen

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

The relationship in this is both mythical and beautiful and creepy and deceptive. Plus, it’s a little insta-lovey, with Maya not knowing much about Amar before being swept away by his sweet nothings and finally having something for herself. I thought it was an interesting premise, but I find it really hard to reconcile true love with “don’t ask any questions and don’t do anything unless I say and then you’ll be safe.” I get why Amar did it, but it’s still…a little creepy and not something I really like as an example of romance. I just wish this wasn’t another example of the dude feeling like he has to do all the protecting/planning, leaving the girl in the dark, and then leading to disaster because she didn’t have all the pieces.

Rosie

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I loved that Maya was more interested in running the kingdom than in harem politics, but since that was because harem politics ignored her, I would have loved to see what she was like when both sides of the world were open to her. Seeing Maya post-revelation was also exciting, because a lady with power is always a thing to behold. The jealous bestie storyline is obviously realistic, but it makes me a little sad to see. There aren’t any women-supporting-women in this (unless you count the , even Maya’s relationship with Gauri is…not perfect. The harem isn’t a system set up for women’s empowerment and it basically requires that they take each other down while also being available for men whenever necessary. Maya’s opinions and words toward the women she lives with are understandable due to their treatment of her, but I do wish there was a little more understanding for the fact that the women aren’t exactly able to choose their fate.

Diversity Score: A+ Successdiversity people circle icon

This story is based on Indian folklore. The kingdoms are made up, but they reflect Indian history and stories, as do the characters. Plus, Chokshi has Indian and Filipino background, so this is an #ownvoices book.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I really liked this book, though it felt like a lot of description and metaphor and not a ton of narrative. The magic and the other-world were intriguing and I enjoyed the immersion in Chokshi’s world. I liked Maya and her strength and I appreciated Amar’s love, even if he said the thing you should never say to a curious leading lady (“Don’t ask questions. Don’t go in that room.”). Pretty much every adventure starts with someone saying that, right? I also value that Maya didn’t let the harem politics push the love out of her – and I’m excited to see what Gauri gets up to in A Crown of Wishes.


Favorite Character

Kamala – the pishacha (a flesh-eating demon in horse form) because she’s got a great sense of humor and actually tells Maya to get it together.

Favorite Line

The whole book is full of tons and tons of metaphors. Read it just for that.

Fun Author Fact

Chokshi made HORNS inspired by her book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

It depends, I’ve seen a lot of reviews that said this was fluffy with no plot and that Maya was boring. I’m not going to lie – the romance is sexy, but it’s also super insta-love. The world is different from a lot of other books, so maybe the unfamiliarity is why some people are saying they don’t like it. I liked the magic and the high, dramatic descriptions, but it’s  not the most complete story ever.

Read These Next

Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova for a look at a bruja family and a girl that doesn’t want her power or The Impostor Queen about a girl groomed to be a magic-wielding queen and what happens when things go awry.

Post Author: Jess

signatures

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Adventure, Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Truthwitch

21414439

Truthwitch (Witchlands #1) by Susan Dennard

Summary

Safiya and Iseult are a team. And they do ok for themselves until they plan one heist too many and are put on the run. They try to escape, but get pulled into bigger and bigger plans – Safi is a Truthwitch and a domna with rights to an earldom and people want to use that to stop the return of global war. Iseult is a Threadwitch but she can’t do what every other Threadwitch can. And they have a Bloodwitch, a king, a queen, and a prince trailing after them.truthwitch

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I was actually pretty excited in the beginning because it seemed like maybe there wouldn’t be a romance. When it did show up, parts really sparked, but as a whole it felt like a convenience rather than a true build up. I also find the “I hate you…oh, now actually I think I love you” thing pretty difficult to believe unless there’s a lot of strong character development. I didn’t feel it here.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

Safi and Iseult are best friends and I really liked that they worked together to protect one another and to reach their goals. I thought together they exhibited a good range of being women – and neither was the “better” character. A few things rankled – Safi being used as a political pawn without her full knowledge and the situation of women in all of the kingdoms was implied to be less than the men. There was one odd scene – at one point Safi’s clothes have been destroyed and a man she is with (her captor/protector) thinks to himself that he shouldn’t see her legs or something of that nature. It was really random and seemed to be added in just to give him something to complain about and to shame Safi since there was no prior context or mention of clothing taboos or keeping things covered.

The score here probably could have gone lower just because women get treated like crap and are victims in a lot of situations, but Safi and Iseult do manage to work their way out of most of the terrible situations and stand up for themselves, so I’m leaving it here.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: You’re Trying

The book gets mega points for featuring a large cast of characters that are people of color – they’re described as tan or golden or brown in many cases. Iseult is very pale and that marks her as part of a group that everyone hates. I give negative points because it honestly just felt like “oh, let me switch their skin colors!” The ruling families/kingdoms felt like all other (Euro-analogue) kingdoms just with POC. There was no explanation for why Iseult’s people were disliked – because they were nomadic? because they were poor? because…I’m just not sure and the reasons that I could find made it just seem like a skin color-switcheroo without much else behind it.

In a fantasy world, you have a giant opportunity to create new cultures and to really subvert things. I didn’t see that. Also, there weren’t many (any?) other forms of diversity that I can recall. I suppose you could say economic diversity, but…it doesn’t get called out in the story much at all. I suppose you could maybe say it discusses privilege and the responsibility that comes with having it, but…that’s a stretch.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

Overall, the story had an interesting premise and I really liked that this was about two lady friends that are on an adventure and pulled into bigger and bigger things. There is, however, a lot to be desired in the world building and explanation department. I wanted to know more about where the powers come from, why the wells dried up, and more explanation of the side effects of the powers. (Like – why did Iseult always need to maintain her emotional balance? There are tiny, tiny, vague hints, but not enough for how often she talks about staying in stasis.) A lot of things are left out or only sketched for us. I will assume that this is because it’s a series and the intention is to leave lots of questions for explanation later, but it made the story feel like it was only a surface exploration of the world.


Favorite Character

Iseult – She has a level head and balances Safi’s impetuous, stubborn, and haphazard actions.

Favorite Line

The writing just wasn’t there for me. I liked the idea of this story, but I’m not sure I liked this book.

Is this worth a book hangover?

I’m not sure – if you don’t mind a more shallow dip into a fantasy world, this could be for you. If you prefer deep world building with lots of background information, then probably not.

Fun Author Fact

Dennard was a marine biologist before becoming a full time writer.

Read These Next

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo for a fantasy world with more depth and a ton of diversity in the characters or The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi or The Impostor Queen by Sarah Fine for more diversity and adventure

Post Author: Jess

1202112022

 

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: Red Queen

 Red Queen

Red Queen by  Victoria Aveyard

Summary

Power is a dangerous game.

The Reds know this lesson all too well. Mere mortals, the Reds are ruled over by the godly Silvers, who possess incredible powers like ultra-strength, telepathy, fire, and much more. The Reds live to serve the Silvers in their homes,  castles, and on the battlefield.

Mare Barrow is one of the Reds. A poor, talentless girl from a large family, Mare faces conscription into the army if she does not find employment soon. When an unlikely circumstance lands her a job in King Tiberias’s castle, Mare soon learns that the world may not be as Red-and-Silver as she’s been taught. Can Mare help start a revolution to help the Reds? Or will her growing affection for the king’s two sons change her mind?

Red

heartRomance Score: You’re Trying

I was slightly annoyed that Mare can’t seem to have any male friends who are not romantic interests. The budding romance between Mare and one of the princes towards the end of the novel was sweet, but I wish I had seen a bit more … romance? I understood the initial attraction between the two (kind of like Peeta and Katniss) but I didn’t feel pulled into their romantic relationship. However, this is the first book of a three part series, so perhaps we will see more in later books.

Feminist Score:  A+ SuccessRosie

Mare kicks ass. Not only does she first land in trouble because she tries to save her (male) best friend, but she repeatedly fights for what she believes is right. And she doesn’t just fall into her power – she has to learn how to control it. The secondary female characters (like the Queen and Princess)  are just as powerful and important to the story.

In Mare’s world, men and women are treated as virtual equals. Both genders are conscripted into the army, and the potential princesses need to show off their power to get their positions. Women aren’t demure flowers waiting to be protected by men; they are warriors.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

Red Queen did a great job discussing economic discrepancies and class wars. The Silvers have all the power and privilege, and use the Reds to serve in their homes, build their technology, and fight their wars. There is very little economic mobility in this society, and the need for change is a theme that is highlighted throughout the book.

I do wish there had been some other form of diversity in the book. Other than an occasional secondary character with brown skin, all the characters were essentially white and straight. Hopefully we’ll see some people of color in future books.

wow icon

Awesome Factor: Good Effort

Red Queen was a great adventure story with a admirable, likeable heroine. The world itself  – especially the power dynamics between the Reds and Silvers – is really interesting, and I enjoyed the power plays between the Red noble families as well. I can’t wait to see what comes next in Glass Sword, the second Red Queen book.

 


 

Favorite Character

Cal, the eldest son and heir to the Silver throne. He’s faced with the challenge of ruling a kingdom on the cusp of a revolution. Throughout the book, he’s faced with moral dilemmas and doesn’t always make the right choices.

Favorite Line

“…the last two days have been a ruin on my heart and soul. I think life has simply decided to open the floodgates, trying to drown me in a whirlwind of twists and turns.”

The metaphor of the floodgates really appealed to me. I think that often, especially when you’re a teenager, it feels like nothing happens and then EVERYTHING happens all at once.

 Fun Author Fact

Victoria Averyard has a BFA in screenwriting from the University of Southern California. I wonder if Red Queen will be a movie one day?

Read This Next

The Selection Series by Kiera Cass. In a reality-show style pageant, girls from various ranks in society compete to be the next princess and wife of Prince Maxon. Pretty awesome.

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: A Thousand Nights

A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston

Summary

The king, Lo-Melkhiin, is killing his wives. He was a strong, fair leader and then, after he went out to hunt, he came back cold 21524446and hungry for brides. No one knows exactly why his wives die, but they know they don’t like it. The people of the kingdom enforce a system – one girl from every village before the cycle starts again. So, when it’s time for our main character’s village, she knows her beautiful, stunning, amazing sister will be picked – because everyone loves her more. Since the main character is strong and loyal, she knows she has to do something to gain the king’s attention and take her sister’s place. She successfully does so and then, once she’s in the palace and married, manages to live out the night – and many more. Lo-Melkhiin finds her an intriguing adversary and she uses mysterious powers to keep death at bay.

heartRomance Score: Not a Bit

Lo-Melkhiin is killing his brides. And it’s totally by choice. The main character is fighting for her life in a situation with a huge power imbalance. There’s no cute guy coming to save her and she’s not looking for one. I guess there could be some romance if you consider how her parents respect and honor each other, but…since she gets pulled from her village fairly early on, I don’t count that.

RosieFeminist Score: Good Effort

I give points here because the main character is a strong, clever girl doing what she can to ensure the safety of her family and her people. She maintains a respect for her culture and does her best to subvert the power systems to work for her. In addition, she becomes a symbol of strength and a smallgod (sort of saint or protector) for the women and girls of her kingdom which is pretty badass. Overall, I think she’s a pretty cool character even if she’s a little obedient or submissive in the palace.

What I did not like was the motivation behind sacrificing herself for her sister. Even though it was slightly played as “I’m stronger/made for this,” the narrative about her sister being more beautiful, more beloved, and all around better came through more clearly – and it felt like a kind of “I’m not worthy of living, so I’ll just die for her” sacrifice rather than courage. Now, she still sacrificed herself and found a wellspring of power while doing so, so I’m not docking points (we all find strength through different scenarios), but it was a little disappointing.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Not a Bit/You’re Trying

This may not feel like a fair score to some readers, but I have reasons. Good things first: the character lives in a desert and is part of an underrepresented culture. She’s a girl that saves the world. Faith is a big part of the story. And yet.

Even though this book takes place in a newly created desert culture, I felt like a lot of the words and details used to give cultural “flavor” were added in after cursory google searches. For example, I found the description and use of veils (face and hair) fairly inconsistent throughout the book. In one scene, it talks about how she wears her hair loose under her scarf; I know this is definitely common practice in some communities, but it didn’t make sense in relation to later scenes. And the use and discussion of henna was seriously confusing. Like, so confusing I wonder if the author has ever used or been around henna. Throughout the book, the main character is given daily henna designs to prepare her for events/seeing her husband. Generally, it seems as though this happens after she is bathed and dressed in her finery, but there is never any discussion (that I remember) of letting the henna dry, sitting still to ensure the designs don’t get marred, or removing the dried henna. This is most obvious in one scene where she is running late and the henna master comes to reapply the designs just before she gets dressed and goes out to see Lo-Melkhiin. This is problematic because 1. her henna would still be wet and 2. if she did have a few minutes to let it dry, little crumbly bits of brown paste would be falling off while they ate or talked and I doubt that is appealing for her husband-king.

Those are small details. Another huge thing is the religious-cultural placement. With a title so explicitly referencing A Thousand Nights/Arabian Tales, the story feels oddly placed – I originally thought this was because it didn’t seem to tie into the usual Arab and/or Muslim context, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s just poor worldbuilding. The addition of magic and the “beings” that roam the world “using” humans also added to the troubling bits. I don’t know if the author removed it from Islamic culture because referencing djinn (a genie -though never named as such) and magic would entail more work and cultural knowledge or if she was trying to pull the story out of that cultural context for some other reason, but it sort of felt like a cop out. I think this book would function better with a different title, too. This one calls back to a well known set of stories and then removes itself almost completely from the traditional tales; not referencing the originals would make it work better as a whole. Overall, the world was underdeveloped – if this was supposed to be a totally new world, the worldbuilding needed to be more complete, if this was referencing an existing culture, the lines needed to be drawn more clearly.

NOTE (3/2016): I’ve heard a lot about the author’s intentions and she definitely tried to make this a polytheist/pagan culture so that it didn’t call back to Arab/Muslim culture. She also was/is an archeologist so I feel a little bad for saying she didn’t seem to do research – I’m sure she did a lot. I think it comes down to the title calling up things that made it unfair to judge.

wow iconAwesome Score: You’re Trying

Overall, I was intrigued by the premise. It seems Scheherazade/One Thousand and One Nights retellings are a coming trend and I’m excited to see how the stories are placed (or replaced) in cultural contexts. I had high hopes for this book and at times throughout the story I was drawn in and intrigued, but overall I took a lot of notes on the random, weird details that pulled me out of the book. Generally for me, lots of notes means a story is lacking depth or pull because I am more focused on small things than on the exciting characters and narrative. I think the world Johnston built could be really engaging and interesting, but it feels like it sits at a 5 when it needs a 10. I also found the power/magic confusing and underdeveloped; maybe that’s a narrative tool since the main character never really understands it, but it just felt poorly written.

Even so, the premise of the story is intriguing and I think that some readers will enjoy the book.


Favorite Character

The Skeptic scholar – I liked his subplot and the main character’s interaction with him

I didn’t mention the Skeptics in my comments above, but this again was such a weird naming choice because it made me think “Are we in Rome? How are we in Rome now?”

Favorite Line

There are some powerful lines in this book, but I was so distracted by the random other things I didn’t write any down. One thing to note – there are very few character names used throughout the book. We never learn the main character’s name and most other characters are referenced by relation (“my sister,” “Lo-Melkhiin’s mother”) which is an interesting choice.

Fun Author Fact

E.K. Johnston is/was an archeologist!

Is this worth a book hangover?

Personally, I would say no. But, different books for different folks (Yes, I know that doesn’t exactly rhyme). The premise is intriguing and the character is strong, it might do it for you. I’ve been holding off because I really don’t want to compare books to one another, but if you are intrigued by a retelling of One Thousand and One Nights, I’d rather recommend The Wrath and the Dawn. Its world is more developed and the characters are more compelling, though the focus is different.

Read These Next

As mentioned, The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh or An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir for another world where stakes are high and escape is difficult and family must be saved.

Author Post: Jess

1202112022

Note: I received access to an early ebook of A Thousand Nights through NetGalley. My review is (I think, obviously) not affected by that.

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

1 Comment

Filed under Science Fiction & Fantasy

Book Discussion: The Second Empress

Empress

Anisha’s Note: I’ve been on a bit of a Michelle Moran kick lately! I recently reviewed The Rebel Queen and reread Cleopatra’s Daughter. I promise I read new books as well, but I believe Gretchen Rubin’s principle that re-reading is the best reading.  

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

Summary

Napoleon Bonaparte, the undeniable ruler of France and perhaps soon all of Europe, is looking for a wife. Not just any wife, but one who is young, fertile, and most importantly, with clear lineage to the throne of France. And when Napoleon sets his sights on something, he gets it. When Napoleon decides that he wants to marry Maria Lucia, the eldest daughter of Francis II of Austria, she is forced to leave behind her home, family, and even her precious puppy to help save her homeland. Can Maria Lucia find happiness in her new home under the reign of Napoleon?

The Second Empress is a fictional take on the life of Maria Lucia, the Archduchess of Austria and second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. The story chronicles the later reign of Napoleon through the eyes of three unique characters: Maria Lucia, Napoleon’s disillusioned sister Pauline, and a Haitian servant named Paul. It’s a well-told, enjoyable piece of historical fiction.

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort  

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but I did enjoy the story of Maria Lucia and her romantic interest. It is a bit simplified, and a bit of a princess-in-need-of-saving, but still sweet and light. It was a nice contrast to some of the darker parts of the relationship between Maria Lucia and Napoleon.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

On one hand, Maria Lucia is characterized as weak, meek, and unable to stand up to her husband. However, that husband happens to be Napoleon Bonaparte, so perhaps we can give her a little grace here. Still, I wish we had seen a little more of Maria Lucia’s personality (and standing up for herself) throughout the story. At best, she’s portrayed as the sacrificial lamb given to Napoleon to allow her country to remain free.
diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort

As mentioned above, this story is told from three perspectives, including Paul, a young Haitian servant who lives in France and serves the Bonaparte family. I was really impressed with Paul’s portrayal, and really enjoyed the descriptions of Haiti, his internal struggles about heritage and home, and his decisions in the book. This is only one character, but in a book focused on only a few (real) people, I was impressed with this fictional addition.

wow icon

Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

This book is an enjoyable, quick read, but it’s not perfect. My biggest qualm (and my qualm with historical fiction at large) is that it mixes fact and fiction. While the main characters are based on real people in history, Moran takes liberties with new characters, dates, and specific events to make a more romanticized plot.

———————————————————————————————————————————

Favorite Character

Paul, the Haitian servant living in France. His unique perspective on the events (and people) around him are a wonderful addition to the story.

Favorite Line

“No shame in crying” he tells me. “If we don’t cry for the dead, then what will we cry for?” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

I think it’s a fun read, especially if you enjoy historical fiction, but I don’t think it’s quite hangover worthy.

Fun Author Fact

According to her website, Michelle Moran was inspired to write The Second Empress while researching her fourth novel,  Madame Tussaud.  She spent extensive time in France both for personal travel and to research the book.

Read This Next

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).

Post Author: Anisha

Anisha

Anisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

Leave a comment

Filed under Historical

Book Discussion: Rebel Queen

51goDmiqDML._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Summary

Sita does not like her future.

Her mother died at childbirth, leaving her with a baby sister, a cruel grandmother, and a loving but poor father. Sita is bound by the rules of purdah, and cannot travel outside of her home without a male to accompany her. She has to wait for her father to find her a husband, but with almost no dowry money and a lot of ambition, she’s not sure that she wants this for herself.

Her only chance to get out is to join the durga dal, a group of elite women who help protect the queen of Jhasni (Tamora Pierce fans, think Thayat’s Riders). Sita knows that no girl from her village has ever been a durga dal but she’ll do everything she can to make her own life for herself.

But even if she becomes a durga dal, her life will be even more challenging. Her Queen, the famous Lakshmi, is the second wife of a weak king of a small princedom. She is effectively ruling for him, and trying to manage the ever-growing power and requests of the British East India Company while remaining publicly demure to her husband. Can Sita be the protector of such a complex and powerful woman?

heartRomance Score: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

I wasn’t completely hooked by the romance in this story. Sita and her suitors romance is not particularly compelling to me. Given all of the details around the treatment of women in this story, I had a hard time believing a romance could exist for a female fighter.

Feminist Score: Between You’re Trying and Good EffortRosie

Sita is a female fighter in a male-dominated society, which automatically gives her some brownie points. In many ways, though, she was still very much powerless. Even with all her training and skills, she is still beholden to her grandmother’s rules, and still allows her sister to remain in the village and under the rules of purdah. I think I expected more fight out of Sita, and was disappointed when I did not see it.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort

I loved that this book tackled a story that is relatively unknown to the Western world, and enjoyed a picture of historical Indian life from a unique female perspective.

wow icon

Awesome Factor: Between You’re Trying and Good Effort

While this story had a lot of potential and great reviews, I have to admit, it wasn’t my favorite. I don’t think I really connected with Sita, and I was frustrated by her lack of action. As one of the few women with power in her society, she did shockingly little to help the one person she loved the most, her sister. And while I enjoyed learning about her back story, I would have preferred to have the story narrated by Queen Lakshmi.


Favorite Character

Queen Lakshmi. She has to balance both the traditional duties as a queen (serving her husband and producing heirs) and the challenges of ruling. I would love a story from her point of view.

Favorite Line

The War stole so many people from us, and still it’s not over. Sometimes, when Raashi is taking me on the train, I’ll catch a glimpse of a young man struggling against the guards who are trying to remove him from the first-class cabin, where only British are allowed to sit, and that’s how I know the war isn’t finished”.

I love timeless lines, and this rings true today. In how many ways are our own race wars not yet finished?

Is this worth a book hangover?

Maybe. It wasn’t my favorite Michelle Moran book (I’m partial to Cleopatra’s Daughter), but it was an interesting perspective on a relatively unknown story.

Fun Author Fact

Michelle Moran and her husband had an Indian wedding (in India). Pictures of her beautiful wedding, including her awesome henna, can be found on her website.

Read This Next

Beneath the Marble Sky by John Shors. Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum (the woman for whom the Taj Mahal was built).

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

1 Comment

Filed under Heavy Topics, Historical

Book Discussion: Beneath a Marble Sky

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Summary

When many people think of India, they think of the Taj Mahal. Most have vaguely heard of the story — how the magnificent white tomb was built by a grieving husband for his deceased wife. But how many have wondered beyond the building of the moment, and to the lives of those involved in the events that took place in 17th century India?

Beneath the Marble Sky is the fictionalized story of the life of Princess Jahanara, daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife, Arjumand Banu Begum. Jahanara lives the privileged life as the favorite daughter of the Emperor, watching her parents rule India and spending time with her brothers. But after her mother dies, and her father begins a downward spiral of grief, Jahanara is forced to grow up quickly. She must help her father rule, and deal with increasingly dangerous power battles with her brother, Auragzeb. Auragzeb, a religious fanatic who twists the words of the Quran to support his cause, is determined to seize the throne, even if it means overthrowing his peace-seeking older brother. Jahanara must decide how to balance her love and duty to her family with her own safety and happiness.

heartRomance Score: Good Effort

I really enjoyed the romance in this story because it was not all-consuming. Jahanara and her partner are both deeply devoted to their work, and realize the importance of duty as well as their own personal happiness. I’ll admit that it’s a little too picture-perfect, especially for that time period, but I really fell in love with both characters and enjoyed watching them together.

FRosieeminist Score: Good Effort 

Beneath the Marble Sky takes place in 17th century India, where the role of women (even the imperial royal princess) was fairly limited. Jahanara navigates tricky political and social constructs to be an effective ruler in a male-ruled society. This story surely takes some liberties with the historical context, and the freedoms Jahanara is allowed, but it was well worth it.

diversity people circle icon

Diversity Score: Good Effort 

One of the best parts of Beneath the Marble Sky are the references to Islam. Through Jahanara’s eyes, we see both the peace and beauty of the religion, as well as as how power-seeking individuals will use “religious” justification to convince people to follow them. Every time Aurangzeb tries to use the Quran to justify violence, Jahanara counters him with other verses. Too many books focus on Islam as the justification for evil, rather than recognize that every written word can be twisted for political gain.

wow icon Awesome Factor: Good Effort 

This has been one of my favorite historical fiction stories since high school. I’ve always been pulled in by the fast-moving plot, and the language is beautiful. I’m always (unfairly) a little wary of authors who write about an unfamiliar culture — e.g. a white man writing about a Muslim-Indian teenage princess. But John Shors writes respectfully and compassionately, and doesn’t try to generalize an entire society by one particular viewpoint.


Favorite Character

Jahanara. She is determined to help her father and brothers, even at the expense of her own happiness.

Favorite Line

“The Qur’an is a book of many faces. As much as Aurangzeb liked to quote its passages concerning revenge, misdeeds, and hellfire, it is also a text that speaks often of forgiveness, charity and goodwill. Unlike my brother, I always found these verses to be most profound. They comforted me tremendously.” 

Is this worth a book hangover?

Yes, especially if you like historical fiction! 

Fun Author Fact

According to his Twitter, John Shors plans literary tours to the settings of his novels. I would love to visit the Taj Mahal with him, and understand what drew him to write particular parts of the novel.

Read This Next
Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran. If you enjoy well-told historical fiction, Michelle Moran’s books are always great reads. While Cleopatra’s Daughter is my favorite, I’ve also enjoyed The Second Empress, the story of Napolean’s reluctant second wife.

Post Author: Anisha

AnishaAnisha loves books, Gilmore Girls, and her Kuerig. She’s been reading mainstream YA since she was actually a young adult, and Jess is helping her expand her horizons with more diverse, interesting books from newer authors.

2 Comments

Filed under Historical

Book Discussion: The Wrath and the Dawn

The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Ahdieh

Summary18798983

The king keeps getting married. And every morning his bride is murdered. After Shahrzad’s best friend falls victim to the nuptial death, she decides it’s time for someone to do something about it. She volunteers to be the next bride and is determined to survive while ensuring that the king does not. But, as she steals each new morning by telling a story and ending it just as the action climaxes, she gets to know the young man responsible for so many deaths…and things are not what they seem.

heart Romance Score: Good Effort

I liked the slow burn of emotions and the secrets and discoveries that allow the characters to open up with each other. There’s a love triangle here, but it’s not awful since the characters are rarely in the same place at the same time. We’ll see if that stands up in the second book. The romance is sweet, but Shahrzad’s first night with one of the men takes things down a notch. It’s not exactly the most romantic, healthy, or happy way to be introduced to sexy times and, while Shahrzad willingly accepts that it’s a necessity to achieve her goals, it does make me a little sad…even if it gets redeemed later in the story. EDIT a long time later: I don’t know if I would give this score now. The relationship is couched in swoony language and makes it out to be romantic, but Shahrzad is essentially a prisoner and it feels a little creepy that the relationship goes the way it does considering the situation. (See note below in Feminism Score from original post.)

RosieFeminism Score: Good Effort

I really like Shahrzad – she’s feisty, smart, dedicated, and kind. She knows what she wants (to kill!) and she knows how she’s going to do it (survive!), but she doesn’t let that get in the way of caring about the people around her. She speaks up when she has an opinion and she knows how to use words to gain power (the dinner scene with the king’s uncle is great). I think she does a decent job navigating the difficult place between first love, confusion about love, and being a good person true to herself, but there are still issues. The guys in her life are jealous, their honor is all wrapped up in her behavior, and they want to police everything she does. It’s frustrating but a. something readers still have to deal with while reading today and b. a fair representation of some of the men from the culture the source-story is pulled from. Since Shahrzad is the one (mostly) calling the shots in the story, I’m still giving it a high score.

BUT – I have to point out the power dynamic here and that, even if things change, the king is a king and Shahrzad is in no place to contradict him so sexy-times are not based in an equal and fair relationship. This part of the story was a  big NO GO for me.

diversity people circle iconDiversity Score: Good Effort

This is another book where it depends on who is reading. To many readers, it introduces a world that will be unfamiliar and which includes richer, deeper cultural references than they get elsewhere (cough Aladdin cough). For readers that know Shahrzad’s story from their own bedtime tales, it will feel much more familiar. It is an exciting addition to the list of books that include magic, swords, and royalty outside the European (or European-esque) tales usually available. We don’t get many other representations, however – the characters are mostly wealthy, educated, and of the same background. Ability levels, appearance, and education levels are fairly standard with a few exceptions.

wow iconAwesome Factor: Good Effort

I’m very excited by Shahrzad’s story! I like seeing this kind of adventure playing out in an uncommon (for published US books) setting. I think the characters are interesting, the mystery plays out well, and I’m intrigued to learn what will happen in the second book. I think a few pieces could have been more developed – the magic seems a little random and unclear. There’s an interesting parallel between Shahrzad’s father and the father that started everything else; right now, it seems underdeveloped, so I hope that is teased out a little more in the next book. I’m also waiting to see what triggers Shahrzad’s growth in strength/power as well.


Favorite Character

Despina – Yes, she’s that stereotypical straight talking servant girl that tells Shahrzad what’s what, but she’s also great! And, I love her backstory; it’s sad, but not too sad and also illustrates the traveling and mixing of cultures that happens naturally in life. I also appreciate the side plot involving her, love, and big decisions because it rounds her out. I hope it plays an important role in the next book.

Favorite Line

“I am young, and, therefore, I know my words only carry a certain weight with the world, but I do know enough to realize you cannot control the actions of others. You can only control what you do with yourself afterward.”

Shahrzad is a smart girl, but it’s more about the total scene surrounding these words; she’s trying to comfort the king’s old tutor and it’s very sweet and gentle and wonderful.

Is this worth a book hangover?

Absolutely! I loved the world Ahdieh has built around the source story (A Thousand and One Nights) with great, strong characters and a truly compelling story. Plus, there are SO MANY details! It absolutely felt like palace life.

Fun Author Fact

Renee Ahdieh is a huge fan of Alanna from Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series, too!

Read This Next

Court of Fives by Kate Elliot for a strong lady lead doing what she can to fight the system or Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen for a story about a girl with powers, stories, and a society to change.

Post Author

1202112022

Jess loves SFF – old and new school –  and is learning to appreciate the more lovey-dovey YA under the careful tutelage of Anisha’s recommendations.

3 Comments

Filed under Romance, Science Fiction & Fantasy