Sunday, February 22, 2015

Review: The Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran

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Received advance review copy from publisher via NetGalley. My opinions are my own.

Release Date: March 3, 2015

What I love most about Michelle Moran is her ability to take what should be a side character and weave such an intriguing story that you forget you originally picked up the book expecting it to be about a well known historical figure. And even when you remember, you don't even care. This novel is no exception. Titled The Rebel Queen in the US and The Last Queen of India in the UK, you might expect it to be told from the Queen's (better known in India as the rani) point of view, or at least partially from her point of view. It's actually told from the first person point of view of Sita, one of her ten female guards, known as the Durga Dal. The rani doesn't enter into the story until about a quarter of the way in, but that never winds up being a disappointment.

Moran effortlessly draws the reader into, what will be for many of us, an unfamiliar world where women are not allowed outside and are considered a burden on their families. And yet, it's also a world where the queen keeps ten elite female fighters, the Durga Dal, around her to protect her. Admittedly, there are a few info dumps since this culture is so foreign to probably most of Moran's readers that there is much that has to be explained, but the story does not suffer for it.

The story is of a highly skilled, highly educated rural girl who must join the Durga Dal to support her family. In a society where a woman's only realistic role is to be a wife and mother, or a prostitute, if her family does not have the money for a dowry to marry her off, her only option is to become a prostitute. Instead, Sita's father chooses a risky and unlikely path for her and trains her to become a Durgavasi. But in 19th century India, the British have great influence and control and the role of the Durga Dal becomes more important than ever as the circle Jhansi, waiting to pounce.

The characters and culture come alive and the ever-evolving plot makes it difficult to put down. Even if you have zero interest in Indian culture, history, and politics, this novel is impossible not to enjoy.

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