I often use the idea of stories that “grab” me, often elaborating on that by then saying they “don’t let go”. Sometimes, though, I should be talking about whether or not I was able to grab onto a story. Sometimes, as with The Star-Touched Queen, stories or parts of them elude me and leave me feeling dissatisfied, even if I’m not sure why.
Roshani Chokshi delivers an Indian mythology–infused story of a princess doomed to be close to death and destruction. Maya is a strong-willed young woman not all that enthused about her father’s plans for marrying her off in the name of “peace”. The man she finds herself married to, Amar, is stranger still, and soon Maya finds herself in a kingdom of fairytales and magic the likes of which she was used to telling her younger half-sister about for bedtime stories. But her new husband is keeping a secret from her, and in typical paternalistic fashion, he refuses to tell her anything specific or useful and then strictly forbids her not to go exploring even though he simultaneously tells her she is free to go anywhere in the palace. Mixed messages much?
I like Maya! I like that she sees a life for herself beyond harem politics and marrying and having children (not that there is anything wrong with those occupations if they are what satisfy you in life). When she talks about how she had envisioned growing into an old maid just reading and studying texts for her entire life … oh man, I can identify. That sounds like heaven. And when she gets frustrated with Amar’s reluctance to reveal more about their new life together in Akaran, I totally understand where she is coming from. She is tired of the nature of her existence being predicated on the whim of some man, whether it’s her father or her new husband. Amar is a dolt and he does not deserve Maya, whether it’s this iteration or any previous or future iteration thereof….
As I said at the start of this review, I just had trouble getting a hold on this book’s story though. In keeping with the styles of magical realism, Chokshi plays fast and loose with things like the relative passage of time in Akaran versus the mortal realm. I had a hard time following exactly what was happening, who was doing what, how things were progressing. So much about the book’s setting feels generic. Maya’s kingdom has a name—but what of it? Beyond that, what makes it special, other than it happening to be her homeland? Her father is just a generic Raja; her family is generic pseudo-Indian royalty. I also have some reservations with the way the romance itself is portrayed, the way Maya seems to fall for Amar in a love-at-first-sight kind of way, even though from the very beginning he is pushy and demanding yet evasive.
Sometimes after leaving a book to marinate for a few days in my head before I write my review I can come back to it with a different perspective. In this case, it feels even more forgettable. The Star-Touched Queen is not bad, just meh.