The Star-Touched Queen reads very much like a retelling of a classic myth; in this case, elements of Hades and Persephone as seen through Indian-culture allegory. The writing is straightforward and for once, we have a strong heroine who does not turn into a soppy mess around the love interest. The Indian trappings feel authentic and was a very welcome divergence from the typical Western Medieval or Antiquity milieu of the YA fantasy genre. However, stronger character building and a more lyrical style to match the magic and fable aspects would have elevated this above a good read and to more of a classic.
Story: Maya, the daughter of the Raja, is a young woman of quiet strength. Shunned by the harem due to a prophecy at birth of death and destruction, she keeps to herself. But when her father arranges for an arranged marriage for political advantage, she realizes it is time to take her life into her own hands. When an unusual suitor mysteriously appears he promises to treasure and respect her, to give her unparalleled power and control over her life and kingdoms, if she will marry him. In return, she must come with him to his mysterious kingdom and trust him. For he and his world are bound by a promise to the moon that they cannot reveal the truth of their land until a certain time has passed. And Maya is beginning to suspect that her gentle young husband’s castle has secrets – secrets that could very well mean her life.
The story is quite lovely and without the melodrama and logic issues which so often strain the credibility of modern YA titles. Although presumably based upon Indian myths, there are elements of Austen’s Persuasion and Du Maurier;s Rebecca (sans the gothic). There’s even a bit of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. As such, this isn’t a rollicking Bollywood tale of love and loss nor is it simplistic or over simplified. The Star-Touched Queen definitely has its own assured voice.
The character of Maya was very well grounded and nicely written. I enjoyed reading the story through her eyes. She had courage and acted upon her conscience but with intelligence. Love interest Amar, her father, and the other harem inhabitants, however, could have used a bit more depth. Especially Amar: he does have to be mysterious by nature in order to set up the mid-book conflict caused by lack of trust and doubt, yet we get to know far too little of him as a person. For that reason, he can feel a bit too over-idealized and a bit too perfect to be realistic or grounded. But the appearance of a demonic horse, providing humor and a sounding board for Maya, was a welcome addition to the second half of the book.
The Indian culture felt authentic: from the harems of the Raja, political squabbling, rich sarees and salwar kameez, to the reliance on horoscopes. Amar’s palace of Akaran was reminiscent of the time of the founding of Jaipur, with his palace evoking images of a grandiose Jantar Mantar. Amar himself could have been modeled after the founder of Jaipur, Maharaja Jai Singh. The culture was reverently and lovingly crafted in this book and I greatly enjoyed exploring it through Maya’s story.
Perhaps because the writing is smooth and straightforward, I had hoped for a bit more lyricism. The descriptions are adequate but it was the scenery and not the exposition that ended up being lush. The world building was excellent, though, and it was easy to become carried away in the tale. The book is a stand-alone with a complete story arc. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.