Be sure to read to the end for an excerpt from the book!
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. (goodreads.com)
What a quotable book. I don’t say that very often, but holy crap. This is one of those books where, if you were so inclined to defile a book, you’d highlight all the good parts only to look back and see it now glows in the dark. It’s okay, because THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN is glorious.
I love coming across books like this that tell such a phenomenal story and use WORDS to do it. It makes me swoon. And I’m not a swooner. But swoon I did. For the WORDS. For the world. For Maya and Amar. All of it. No fault. None. And I’m not saying this because I’m part of the blog tour. I’m saying this because READ IT NOW.
Maya is held down by the people around her, from her half-siblings to the other women in the harem. Even her own father views her as something deadly, as a pawn. And when this harsh realization comes to light she’s given a choice: die or marry Amar. Wooed by things she’s striven for her entire life but came to realize she’d never get, Amar offers her all of that and more. But Maya soon realizes that he may offer more than she’s willing to take, and he’ll take more than she’s willing to give. Or is it really what it seems?
Perception is a big deal in THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN. It all depends on how one looks at something, how it’s interpreted, that could mean all the difference in the world. Over the course of the book Maya learns the hard way that things are not always what they seem and sometimes the decision you make about something comes too late to rectify. But she’s a strong character and she owns all of her decisions, all of her mistakes, all of her trials. Even though they may be bitter pills to swallow, and even though they may come in the form of a surly, carnivorous horse, she accepts and deals with them. Sometimes a little angrily, snipping a little, but really, the horse was aggravating at times.
It’s a story of a queen rescuing her king. Of a queen restoring her land to rights. Of a woman who doesn’t fear death and eventually stops putting so much stock in the stars. Who recognizes that stars are freeing, not binding.
The world Chokshi built is a glorious thing, richly detailed and vivid. I mean I could taste the jewel fruits she described. And the palace where Maya went to live with Amar was this living, pulsing thing that reached clean off the page and begged you to pay attention to it. Fitting since it was actually a living thing. From the Otherworld creatures to the layers of worlds that exist in this book, all are so rich, so colorful, and are impossible to look away from.
Amar . . . wow. I don’t go in for love stories very often but this one . . . this one they both had to claw through the mud to win. The hurdles they had to jump over, the obstacles they had to traverse, the people they had to fight to get out of the way, it’s a love that transcended time. It was something I felt in my bones and wanted to keep feeling. The tragedy and mending, the frustration and undying love just permeated the pages. I didn’t want it to stop.
WORDS. Such glorious WORDS. The book is a beauty, written in lush storytelling that will burrow into your soul and stay with you long after the covers close. I love books like this. I can’t wait to read it again, let alone anything else Chokshi writes.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Roshani Chokshi comes from a small town in Georgia where she collected a Southern accent, but does not use it unless under duress. She grew up in a blue house with a perpetually napping bear-dog. At Emory University, she dabbled with journalism, attended some classes in pajamas, forgot to buy winter boots and majored in 14th century British literature. She spent a year after graduation working and traveling and writing. After that, she started law school at the University of Georgia where she’s learning a new kind of storytelling. The Star-Touched Queen is her first novel. (goodreads.com)
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LESSONS IN SILENCE
The archives were cut like honeycombs and golden light clung to them, dousing every tome, painting, treatise and poem the soft gold of ghee freshly skimmed from boiling
butter. I was only allowed to visit once a week—to meet with my weekly tutor before I inevitably scared him away. Every time I left the archival room, my arms brimmed with parchment paper. I loved the feeling of discovery, of not knowing how much I wanted something until I had discovered its absence.
The week before, I had lost myself in the folktales of Bharata. Stories of elephants who spun clouds, shaking tremors loose from ancient trunks gnarled with the rime of lost cyclones, whirlwinds and thunderstorms. Myths of frank-eyed naga women twisting serpentine, flashing smiles full of uncut gemstones. Legends of a world beneath, above, beside the one I knew—where trees bore edible gems and no one would think twice about a girl with dark skin and a darker horoscope. I wanted it to be real so badly that sometimes I thought I could see the Otherworld. Sometimes, if I closed my eyes and pressed my toes into the ground, I could al- most sense them sinking into the loam of some other land, a dream demesne where the sky cleaved in two and the earth was sutured with a magic that could heal hearts, mend bones, change lives.
It was a dream I didn’t want to part with, but I had to settle for what magic I could create on my own. I could read more. Learn more. Make new dreams. But the best part wasn’t hoarding those wishes to myself. It was sharing everything I learned with Gauri, my half-sister. She was the only one I couldn’t scare away . . . the only one I didn’t want to.
Thinking of Gauri always made me smile. But as soon as I caught sight of my tutor of the week, the smile disappeared. He stood between two pillars of the archive section marking the king- dom’s history. Beyond the sheer number of things to read in the archive room, what I loved most was its ceiling. It was empty, wide enough to crawl through and conveniently linked to my father’s in- ner sanctum.
The tutor, as luck would have it, stood directly below my hiding spot.
At least Father’s announcement hadn’t started. The courtiers still murmured and the footfall of tardiness fell on my ears like music. But if I was ever going to get to hear that meeting, I had to get rid of the tutor first.
“Punctuality is a prize among women,” said the tutor.
I bit back a cringe. His voice was sticky. The words drawn out like they would morph into a noose and slip around you in the dark. I stepped back, only to see his eyes sharpen into a glare.
He was heavyset and tall. Soft-rounded jowls faded into a non- chin and thick neck. Greasy black eyes dragged across my body. In the past, my tutors had all been the same—a little doughy, a little nervous. Always superstitious. This new tutor held my gaze evenly. That was unexpected. None of my other tutors had ever met my eye. Sometimes the tutors sidled against the dark of the archival chambers, hands trembling as they pushed a set of notes toward me. History lessons, they said. Why did they always start with history? Show me a dream unrealized. Don’t show me un- changeable paths.
The tutor cleared his throat. “I have no intention to teach you history or letters or speech. I intend to teach you silence. Stillness.” This time I didn’t even try to hide my scowl. I did not like this replacement. Tutors generally left me alone. I never had to raise my voice. I never had to scowl. I didn’t even need words. What scared them most was much simpler and sweeter than that—a smile. The moment I smiled—not a real one, of course, but a slow, crocodile reveal of teeth and a practiced manic gleam—the tutor would make an excuse, edge along the wall and flee out of the archive rooms.
Who wanted to be smiled at by the girl that trailed shadows like pets, conjured snakes and waited for Death, her bridegroom, to steal her from these walls? Never mind that none of it was true. Never mind that the closest I had come to real magic was making off with an entire tray of desserts without anyone noticing. The shadow of me always loomed larger than the person who cast it. And sometimes that had its benefits.
This tutor, however, was not as easily cowed. I strained my ears, listening for the footfall of more courtiers, but it was silent. The meeting would start any minute now and here I was, stuck with some fool who wanted to teach me the virtue of silence.
I grinned at him . . .
. . . and he grinned back.
“It is unseemly to smile at strangers, Princess.”
He took a step closer to me. Shadows glommed around him, choking off the honey light of the room. He smelled wrong. Like he had borrowed the scent of another person. Sweat slicked his skin and when he walked closer, red shimmered in his eyes—like coal smoldering in each socket.
“Let me teach you, lovely thing,” he said, taking another step closer. “Humans always get it wrong, don’t they? They think a bowl of rice at the front door is strong enough to keep a demon away. Wrong. What you know is a false promise of strength. Let me show you weakness.”
The room had never felt this empty, like I was trapped between the space of an echo and a scream. I couldn’t hear anything. Not the parrots scuttling on their branches or the court notary dron- ing his list of the afternoon’s agenda. Silence was a silhouette, some- thing I could trace.
The tutor’s voice transcended sound, muddying my thoughts. “Let me teach you the ways of demons and men.”
My knees buckled. His voice echoed with all the desperation of someone who had not slaked his thirst in eons and had just spied a goblet of water sweating beads of condensation, thick as planets. His voice lulled me, coated me. I wanted to move, but found myself rooted to the spot. I glanced up, fighting the drowsi- ness, and saw his shadow smeared on the wall—horned, furred belly skating over the floor, shifting into man and beast and back. Devil. Raksha.
Somewhere in my mind, I knew he wasn’t real. He couldn’t be. This was the court of Bharata, a city like a bone spur—tacked on like an afterthought. Its demons were different: harem wives with jewels in their hair and hate in their heart, courtiers with mouths full of lies, a father who knew me only as a colored stone around his neck. Those were the monsters I knew. My world didn’t have room for more.
The drowsiness slipped off me. When I shook myself free of it, my smile was bitter smoke, my hackles raised until I thought my skin had given way to glass. Now, he seemed smaller. Or maybe I had grown bigger. My surroundings slid away, and all that was left was fire licking at the earth, the edge of a winter eclipse, stars whirling in a forest pool and the pulsing beat of something an- cient running through my veins.
“I don’t care for the ways of men and demons,” I hissed. “Your lessons are lost on me.”
Whatever darkness my mind had imagined melted. Parrots singing. Fountains gurgling. The distant voice of a courtier dron- ing about wars. Sound pushed up between those lost seconds, blossoming into fierce murmurs, hushed tones. What had I imagined? I searched for the tutor’s shadow splayed against the wall. I waited to see something slinking along the ground, darkness stretched long and thin over tomes and cracked tiles, but there was nothing.
“You,” he hissed in an exhale that ended in a whimper. He backed into a corner. “It’s you. I thought . . .” He gulped down the rest of his words. He looked lost.
I blinked at him, shaking off the final remnants of that drows- iness. I felt groggy, but not with sleep. A moment ago, I thought I had seen horns limned in shadow. I thought something had coursed through me in defense—a low note of music, the bass of a thun- derclap, a pleat of light glinting through a bruised storm cloud. But that couldn’t be right. The person before me was just . . . a person. And if I had heard him say something else, saw him morph into something else, it was all distant and the fingers of my memory could do nothing but rummage through images, hold them to the light and wonder if I hadn’t slipped into a waking nightmare.
The tutor trembled. Gone was the blocky figure choking out the light and lecturing me on silence. Or had he said something else in those lost moments? Something about weakness and de- mons. I couldn’t remember. I clutched a table, my knuckles white. “I must go,” he said, his face pale, like blood had drained from him. “I didn’t know. Truly. I didn’t. I thought you were someone else.”
I stared at him. What did he mean? How could he not know who I was? Someone must have told him that I was the princess he would be tutoring this afternoon. But I was wasting time. He was just another tutor scared by a reputation pronounced by far- away lights in the sky. Curse the stars.