YA Weekend Audio: The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (April 26, 2016)
Length: 9 hrs and 22 mins
As soon as I finished this book I wanted to jump up and scream YES! This is what more YA should be like. It has originality. It has depth. It has a talking, flesh-eating demon horse. Wait, what? Yeah, more on that in a bit.
Think of The Star-Touched Queen as a retelling of the Persephone/Hades story, but inspired by the grand sweeping epics of Indian mythology. And like the greatest of the legends, this powerful journey also has elements of magic and romance, beauty and darkness, death and sacrifice. Seventeen-year-old Princess Myavati is said to be cursed, tainted with a horoscope that promises a marriage of Death and Destruction. In a kingdom where the people are deeply superstitious, this makes Maya something of an outcast in her father’s palace. None of the women in the harem want anything to do with her, but that suits Maya just fine as she puts her mind towards more scholarly pursuits.
But then Maya’s world is shattered when the Raja announces his plan to barter her off in a political marriage. The news shocks and mystifies her, because princess or not, who would want her as a cursed bride? In the end, what her father had in mind turns out to be much more complicated and terrible, but just as Maya was about to accept her fate as a mere pawn in this game of power, a new player enters the field—Amar, a mysterious prince who claims to be from a magical kingdom far away. Indeed, Amar ends up whisking Maya away to Akaran, his world beyond the mortal realm. There, he shows her wonders she never thought possible, though he reveals little of the truth about himself, telling Maya that a magical geas prevents him from answering all her questions until a certain amount of time has passed. The secrets gradually begin to eat away at Maya, who is not content to stay in Akaran like a caged bird. Acting upon her instincts, however, she unwittingly unleashes a chaos may unbalance the fates of both the ordinary world and the Otherworldly one, and now Maya needs to figure out how to make things right and save the people she loves.
While it’s true that the prose edges into purplish territory at times (especially noticeable when you’re listening to the audiobook), I’m a little tempted to let this one slide…just this once. Somehow, the style actually ends up being a good fit for kind of the imagery presented in this novel—rich, vibrant, perhaps a little bit over-the-top in terms of abstractedness, but still grounded enough to be very enjoyable. Certain aspects in this story remind me of the different kinds of myths in antiquity or folklore/legend, only retold for a modern audience.
I also really enjoyed the heavy focus on Maya and Amar’s relationship, and I don’t simply mean that we spend a lot of time on the romance. This goes deeper than that. I love the fact that author Roshani Chokshi is not afraid to slow things down, especially when current YA fiction trends are seemingly always pushing for more ACTION, ACTION, ACTION! PEP, VIM, ZING! The Star-Touched Queen is not that kind of book, and I would even understand if others call it out for its languid pacing, though I have to say found this novel no less exciting in its own unique way. I marveled at the amount of bonding time between our two main characters, or how the thoughtful, reflective conversations they had with each other actually meant something.
If you were hoping for a faster-paced story, the second part of the book does bring a little more momentum. We get to know Maya a lot better as a character, watching her personal growth as she rises above her past memories and actions. In the tradition of the ancient Indian epics, this section chronicles a hero’s journey, except in this case of course, our hero is a heroine, a princess trying to find a way to save her world and her beloved. But Maya doesn’t fight this battle alone; by her side is Kamala, the aforementioned demon horse who makes for an unlikely but humorous ally.
I also highly recommend The Star-Touched Queen in audio format. I thought narrator Priya Ayyar’s performance started out a little strained at the beginning but it gradually smoothed out to become more natural over time, and she is really good with accents. Furthermore, some stories can work incredibly well when they’re being read out loud, with certain sections that make you want to close your eyes and imagine the wonderful things described. This is definitely one of those books.
All told The Star-Touched Queen was a delight to read and listen to; I would recommend it if you’re looking for an imaginative YA retelling that’s not as formulaic and contrived. A lovely mix of romance, fantasy, and mythology.
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