There’s a clever tweet going around out there advocating for a moratorium on words like “throne” and “crown” in YA book titles, and I totally get why. A Crown of Wishes is one of those densely generic titles that does a terrible job at hinting about the contents of the book. In this particular case, it is at least appropriate, in that the book does feature both crowns (metaphorical and literal) and wishes (um … metaphorical and literal?). This book just came out last week, and I received an ebook through NetGalley thanks to St. Martin’s Press. I’m glad that it is a standalone companion to The Star-Touched Queen, because after that experience I wasn’t keen on continuing Maya’s story.
For those who have read Maya’s book, this one follows her half-sister Gauri. Maya makes a small appearance much later. Some of the setting and mythical beings are similar. That’s about all you need to know.
Adult now, Gauri has failed in an attempt to usurp the throne of Bharata from her brother Skanda, who is a cruel and negligent ruler. Exiled to be executed in a foreign kingdom, Gauri instead finds herself swept up into a supernatural “Tournament of Wishes” as the partner of Prince Vikram, who is determined to find a way to claim true power for his throne instead of being a puppet for Ujijain’s council. This tournament takes Gauri and Vikram to Alaka, a supernatural domain ruled by Lord Kubera and Lady Kauveri, who preside capriciously over the tournament.
Gauri and Vikram have diametrically opposed personalities, of course, in the kind of way that makes them great complements to each other, especially in a tournament that is mostly a battle of wits. It is blatantly obvious from the start that this is a romance, that they are meant to be together, no matter how many obstacles Roshani Chokshi throws in their way. This setup does feel a little clichéd in that sense, just because everything is so obvious, right down to the best friend teasing Gauri about being so obstinate and resistant to what’s right in front of her face. Nevertheless, compared to Maya and Amar’s “romance” from the first book, this one is at least more gradual and organic within the story. Gauri doesn’t suddenly get a feeling that she is meant to be with Vikram; they have to build trust and earn each other’s respect.
I liked Gauri. She is so strong but also so inflexible; she would break rather than bend, and it’s this brittleness that is embodied later in the glass … well, no spoilers. This Tournament of Wishes is, as with any wish-powered fairytale, all about learning what you should really be wishing for (if you should really wish at all). Gauri has spent her entire existence, such as it is so far, growing up with certain ideals of strength, influenced by her harem and Mother Dhina, as well as stories from Maya, and her companion, Nalini. She has mastered the arts of cosmetics and clothing to enhance and broadcast her beauty when necessary; she will also fight and kill as required. And I like that when the story begins, Gauri is alone, defeated. She played the game of thrones, if you will, and is about to encounter the “die” outcome rather than the win. She is a determined person, but she was not successful—until Vikram happens.
On the other hand, Vikram is self-assured almost to a fault. He is so confident in his intelligence and wit that he continually places himself and Gauri in harm’s way, sure that he can figure out a dodge. It’s going to get them killed one day, but until then, I suppose he is a very interesting character to live with. I want to say I liked him, sure, but as you can tell from the relative lengths of these two paragraphs, I find him much less interesting. He’s a smart dolt with a heart of gold, but beyond that … meh. Gauri could do better.
The setting and substance of A Crown of Wishes is once again fantastic and mythological. Chokshi brings in quite a nicely diverse set of beings to populate Alaka and threaten or aid our protagonist. She is very good at conjuring that fairytale-like atmosphere in which the correct course of action is not always the obvious one, that kind of atmosphere where riddles abound and confidence is often all it takes to win the day. I remember getting pretty frustrated with the magical realism of The Star-Touched Queen—less so here. However, the prose continues to shade towards a definite indigo, if not outright purple, in a way that doesn’t appeal to me.
My only dissatisfaction around the plot is really just that it feels too familiar. Not in the particulars, the characters or myths that Chokshi uses on the page, but in the overall themes and outcomes. Like the hero’s journey, the wishing-quest structure is an old and honourable one—but Chokshi doesn’t do much to stretch its boundaries or plumb its depths.
A Crown of Wishes, then, is a predictable tale of magic and romance told with competent and interesting characters. I liked it more than The Star-Touched Queen but not enough to jump up and down about it (and yes, for some books, that’s literally how I express my excitement while reading them).