A Crown of Wishes

by Roshani Chokshi
Reviewed by SA

I have been waiting for this novel to be realsed for ages. Ever since I read the outstanding novel The Star Touched Queen, last year, I was enamored with the amazingly magical universe Roshani Chokshi creates. The style, the imagery, everything was so evocative I was drawn in from the start. And A Crown of Wishes carries that magic as well, and definitely did not disappoint.

Summary29939047

Gauri, the princess of Bharata, has been taken as a prisoner of war by her kingdom’s enemies. Faced with a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. Hope unexpectedly comes in the form of Vikram, the cunning prince of a neighboring land and her sworn enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with becoming a mere puppet king, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together, they’ll have to set aside their differences and team up to win the Tournament of Wishes—a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor.

Reaching the tournament is just the beginning. Once they arrive, danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans and mischievous story birds, a feast of fears and twisted fairy revels.

Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.

Like The Star Touched Queen before it, this novel reads like a vivid dream. Your mind is filled with rich colors and deep smells, and you are tugged from one magical place to another, yet never stopped by thick exposition: the author walks the fine line of ‘telling too much’ and ‘showing too little’, making it the perfect amount needed for master world building. She honestly could have had her characters wander without a plot through these worlds and I would still have read it – it’s like staring at a painting.

But it has a plot, and an exciting one at that! While it is the sequel of The Star Touched Queen, it’s more like a spin off. The events that take place in A Crown of Wishes follow Gauri, the adorable little sister of Maya who grew up to be a badass warrior. But when Gauri gets banished from Bharata, she knows she needs to go back, overthrow her brother and save her friends. But to do that, she has to win the Tournament of Wishes, a magical competition in which victory grants you a wish. At her side is the handsome and cunning Vikram, the not-exactly-prince of a neighboring (enemy) kingdom, whose smarts perfectly match Gauri’s skill in battle. Together, they make an impressive pair.

I love, love, love Gauri. She’s someone I wish I could be – bold, strong, but smart. A little stubborn, maybe, but she seems to make more rational decisions than her older sister. Vikram, I took a little while to warm up to, but I think that was purposeful from the author: Gauri doesn’t trust him from the start, and neither do we, even if he is a POV character and we know he’s honest with her. The romance between them was slow and worked, though I’m never a fan of romances in this kind of novel – I always wish for them to just remain badass partners in crime.

This book is, in a word, magical. If you loved The Star Touched Queen as much as I did, you’re going to love its somewhat-sequel. Follow Gauri through realms of magic where the laws of the mortal world do not apply, and where a story may be worth more than a life. Sign me up for everything Roshani Chokshi writes!

Out today from St Martin’s Press.

Advertisements

The Color of our Sky

by Amita Trasi 

Reviewed by SA

Fair warning: this book is a difficult read. The subject matter is heavy and painful, so there are content warnings for rape, abuse, and violence, to say the least. It will also frequently bring you to tears. Yet the story is one of love and determination, spanning years and breaking your heart. I absolutely loved it.

Synopsis

Tara has returned to India, to her old apartment in Bombay, the scene of the kidnapping of her friend Mukta eleven years previously. Mukta was a village girl, daughter of a prostitute and fated to become one herself, who was brought in to their household by Tara’s father when she was no older than ten. The girls grew up together, spending five years blossoming their friendship, before the fateful night when Mukta was abducted. Now Tara is determined to find her, and will do so at any cost. The novel spans thirty years, taking you to the past, the present, and pushing into the future as Tara digs up clues to her friend’s fate… as well as secrets surrounding her own family.

First and foremost I loved the lyrical nature of this novel. Trasi has an incredible style, and manages to bring to life the most gorgeous images of India – as well as the, well, not so gorgeous. She weaves local terms into her text, which at first I found a little confusing, as there was not always enough context to grasp their meaning, until I found the lexicon in the back. She truly brought India to life, for better of for worse.

The bond between Tara and Mukta was one of the factors that kept me reading this book so intently, even through the incredibly terrifying moments. The character development through the course of the plot was grounded and human, which made the two of them gain dimension and depth. The other characters in their lives sometimes lacked the spark that brought them out of the page, but with the two young women front and center, the focus is where it should be.

The horror in the novel is a serious wake up call. The brutality of human trafficking is alive in India, and the torment Mukta is living through would be something I wished could not be real. The author describes in vivid detail the living conditions of these women, the horror of what they have to go through every day, and the definite knowledge that there is no way out. These were the most difficult parts of the novel to read, and it’s enough to bring us to tears.

There were definitely a few things I found weird. For example, Tara’s cash flow. We’re told she has been working three jobs back in America, yet she finds a somewhat endless supply of cash for bribes in India. She also somehow affords to take months out of work to try and find Mukta and doesn’t seem to be working in India either. Maybe this is just a detail, but it took away from the realism that was otherwise so convincing.

Another little weird thing was the quotes. Between chapter, you would get a quote from either Tara or Mukta (sometimes to signify a change of perspective or point of view) which just felt a little out of place. The form of the novel does not call for it: the book is not an interview, a journal, or letters. What are the quotes doing there? They really felt out of place.

Read this book at your own peril: you will find love and friendship, but also pain and suffering. You will read true horror but also true hope. The Color of Our Sky is expected to be published on June 30th.

The Strangler Vine

by M. J. Carter

Reviewed by SA

Historical fiction novels can go one of two ways: they can be long winded and oddly pretentious, usually showing more a stereotypical view of history with characters that seem uncomfortably out of time; or, they can be an exciting glimpse into a fascinating period, a veritable window into the past that brings an entire moment in history back to life. Thankfully, The Strangler Vine is not only a fantastic example of the latter, but also an engrossing novel in its own right.

Summary (thank you, Goodreads)

Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing.
William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure.
What was it that so captivated Mountstuart about the Thugs, the murderous sect of Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travelers by the roadside? Who is Jeremiah Blake and can he be trusted? And why is the whole enterprise shrouded in such secrecy?
In the dark heart of Company India, Avery will have to fight for his very life, and in defense of a truth he will wish he had never learned.

I admit that it took me a while to get into the novel, as it begins quiet slow, and admittedly I was jumping to conclusions to where the plot was going. Even so, I found myself engrossed with the narrative, and was pleasantly surprised when the story went off the beaten track. Soon, it showed itself to be a truly unique novel, and at that point it was impossible to put down.

While Avery, our narrator, a young man who has only recently joined the company and for whom India has not been doing any favors, seems almost like a lego block for our own perception to cling to, it was Blake who really stole the show. His relationship with India remains more than something black of white, and is absolutely fascinating. He is just one of the vibrant people in this novel; Carter takes stereotypes and makes them surprise you by being much, much more.

But it is really the dynamic atmosphere of India itself which entrances you. Carter has a magic touch when it comes to bringing nineteenth century India to life, and paints an evocative picture of this moment of time. It is positively gorgeous, though in a stylistic sense, as the author does evoke the worst parts of india as well, the ones we would rather not imagine, the parts which are usually left out of novels such as there.

In a way, this novel reminds me quite a lot of Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) which takes us deep into the heart of the ‘uncivilized’ and introduces us to characters who have given in to the nature of this new land. Call it culture shock, in its most extreme sense, as Avery is dragged into another world, bringing us with him; as we learn more about the mystery of the ‘Thugs’ and attempt to find the truth there; as we try to make sense of this dangerous world.

It is also fascinating how the author draws parallels between his fiction and the truth. Read the historical afterword, as it is an incredible insight into the real men and events that inspired this novel. It reveals the complexity of the plot and shows the amount of research done to build this historically accurate India.

A gorgeous novel, for those looking for an adventure unlike any other.