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Monday, April 6, 2015

Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

Title:  Rebel Queen
Author: Michelle Moran
Publisher: 3rd March 2015 by Touchstone
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC ebook
Genre: historical fiction, cultural-India, fiction-adult
My Rating:  four crowns


From the internationally bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.

When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.

Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.

Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita—Queen Lakshmi’s most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army—Rebel Queen shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, Nefertiti, and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life.

My thoughts:

I eagerly anticipated reading Michelle Moran’s latest book. Having read her previous novels, I was filled with anticipation and can safely say, she did not fail to deliver. Moran is a very talented writer of historical fiction involving strong female characters. You are very quickly swept away to 19th century India and all the turmoils that would befall it.

‘Rebel Queen’ details the final years of the Indian kingdom of Jhansi before Britain's conquest. It is recalled through the voice of ‘Sita', one of the Queen’s guards, and although some may beg to differ,  I feel this was a clever move on Moran’s part. To have the lead character be the ‘Rebel Queen’ would not have given her license to sway from fact and her critics would have been lining up. Instead, through the eyes of Sita, we are introduced to so much more about Indian life and culture at this time than would ever have been possible through the straight royal status of Queen Rani. That being said, the plight of the ‘Rebel Queen’ is somewhat secondary to the main character of Sita – and that is okay, for it is a grand story, told by a master storyteller.  Sita’s story, as I alighted to above, is one so moving that you see Moran seamlessly blend fact and fiction. It is a perfect balance. The reader grows with Sita from her early years at home, to training for the guards, to her place in the royal court. You will come to admire this lead character not only for her bravery and courage, but also for her inner strength and wisdom.

“I would survive this. I’d survived worse things. After all, I was bamboo, and bamboo bends. It doesn’t break”.

What Moran does so brilliantly is bring, in this case, 19th century India to life - everything from court life, diet, festivals and more. You feel as if you are sitting right along side them as they smell the spices or touch the silk saris. India is not a country I have read that much about so it was a revelation to feel so at one with such a rich time in history. All Moran books are rich in detail, this one maybe even more so due to the great cultural differences from Western society. I believe Moran does this in fine fashion conveying a strong connection between fact and fiction, between educating us on an unfamiliar culture and a mesmerising story – they compliment each other rather than run parallel tales. This world comes to life and the author leads you to understand the feelings and fears of women who are hidden from society and viewed as such a burden to their family. It was so interesting to read about India from their perspective at the time of the British occupation. The rich detail deepens your appreciation and understanding, something all history lovers will embrace. Some critics find it borders on information overload, but I beg to differ. Nothing is taken away from the narrative and in fact the explanations are needed to truly appreciate why certain actions might be deemed offensive.

“What gave these foreigners the right to destroy our kingdom? Our people lived here for five thousand years”.

Tie all this together and you have a very unique tale from an Indian woman’s perspective – how remarkable! Michelle Moran takes you on a journey through time and you come away from the reading experience having had a glimpse at a life and time so far removed from your own that you couldn’t help but be impressed.

Michelle Moran, I salute you:

“For nonreaders, life is simply what they touch and see, not what they feel when they open the pages of a play and are transported …. Where the world is full of a thousand colors for those who love books, I suspect it is simply black and gray to everyone else. A tree is a tree to them; it is never a magical doorway to another world populated with beings that don’t exist here”.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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