The Star-Touched Queen
St. Martin’s Griffin (9781250085474)
I had difficulty deciding on a rating to give The Star-Touched Queen. In my head I settled it on 3,5 because I didn’t love it enough to become 4 stars. In part, that had to do with the lead character, Maya, but mostly it was because I never truly got sucked into the story. There were always little things that pulled me out, while on the other hand, there were things that made up for it and which I believed were well thought out and written. Although this book stays very true to itself, and there is never uneven writing, it just wasn’t wholly compatible with me as a reader.
And that happens, sometimes. I think there will be a lot of people who will absolutely adore this story. It has a fairytale feel to it. I know from researching Roshani Chokshi a bit, that she has used or alluded to at least a handful of Hindu folk tales. I liked that I recognised the general structure of these folk tales (because folk tales have a tendency to overlap a great deal across cultures), but also that they still felt new to me. They were unknown enough that through them, I could not guess how the story would unfold itself.
Unfortunately, I could guess fairly easily through the way the story itself was set up. I think the story started out really strong, introducing Maya in her father’s kingdom of Bhutan. Her destructive horoscope shaped her character and the circumstances she is in, culminating in the fact that she must sacrifice her life to save the kingdom. Roshani Chokshi does a great job in just a few chapters, introducing and shaping characters so that the entire turn of events feels very natural. I really found myself drawn to the story here, but as Amar joins the stage, we go from the real world to a fairytale one without so much as a warning that this was a possibility.
I found that transition to be rough, because neither the back cover nor the previous chapters had warned me this was a possibility. Maya’s easy acceptance of this also felt a but rushed. It is true that she was about to die because her father willed it, but she is also established as a girl with a strong sense of roots. I found it more out of character than in. I quickly got into the story again when the mystery of Amar’s land arose. Why was it always abandoned, why could they not tell her anything about it, why did she have to wait until the next moon and what would happen then? When Maya realises where she is, I got very interested. It’s not every day you hear you’re wedded to… well, I won’t spoil the fun.
But then the story takes a turn that again I can only attribute to Roshani Chokshi making excuses for her character to form a plot. By letting Maya tell intricate stories and pose riddles to friends, she is given some credit for intelligence. I found the trap that was laid incredibly obvious. Even if she felt betrayed after her initial revelation of her whereabouts, I would seriously ask some questions before taking irrevocable action that has lives at stake. That Maya doesn’t, tells me that Roshani Chokshi chose the easy way out here, to better move on with her story. I would have really liked her to delve deeper into this.
What I really did love about The Star-Touched Queen are two things. (Alright, three. Kamala seriously deserves a spin-off, that horse is GOLD.) First, Maya wrapping up loose threads with different members of her family, and second, her finally revealed background story near the end of the book. I wish there was more exploration of the time difference in Maya’s new world and her previous home in Bhutan, but every time Maya meets someone from her past, it really resonated with me. Her father, Gauri, and especially mother Dhina. These are powerful relationships, and they colour Maya’s journey in letting go of her old life and embracing the new.
The same goes for her rediscovering her background, of which I wish we could have seen more. There were mistakes made by Maya and Amar in two lifetimes, and I would have given some serious cash to witness an argument between themabout that. Because it’s got to sting. These old issues are still relevant to them at the end of the book, considering the fact that both of them repeated their first mistakes the second time around. I really think this fall-out should have been part of the book. And I think, in part, that is why The Star-Touched Queen and I weren’t so compatible. I like the emphasis to be on the parts Roshani Chokshi chose to glance over, while the rest fell a bit flat because of its predictable run.
It’s not to say I did not enjoy this book. I did. The Hindu lore especially turned this book into somewhat of a unique read for me, as I don’t often come into contact with the non-Western kind. I really should acquaint myself more with them The book had definite highlights for me, and sometimes I feel I cannot judge a book that runs predictably when I love fairytale retellings. What else do I expect from them, right? So I kept on debating with myself and decided on the 3,5/5 stars.