Author: Michelle Moran
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (January 5, 2016)
When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the 1850s, it expects a quick and easy conquest. After all, India is not even a country, but a collection of kingdoms on the subcontinent. But when the British arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, expecting its queen to forfeit her crown, they are met with a surprise. Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male, one female—and rides into battle like Joan of Arc. Although her soldiers are little match against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi fights against an empire determined to take away the land she loves.
Told from the perspective of Sita, one of the guards in Lakshmi’s all-female army and the queen’s most trusted warrior, The Last Queen of India traces the astonishing tale of a fearless ruler making her way in a world dominated by men. In the tradition of her bestselling novel Nefertiti, which Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, called “a heroic story with a very human heart,” Michelle Moran once again brings a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction to rich, vibrant life.
When Rebel Queen was selected as the monthly pick for one of my Goodreads book clubs, I was thrilled. I mean, look at the cover! Stunning! After I read the synopsis, I was sold. A woman ruler who rides into battle alongside a female army? Yes, please!
Michelle Moran undertook quite a challenge with Rebel Queen. Not only did she decide to write a historical fiction, but also a historical fiction that takes place in a different culture. She had the challenging task of not only writing a interesting story based on historical events, but also had to educate the readers who are ignorant of Indian culture. The research that must have gone into this book had to have been extensive. I LOVE reading about different cultures, so I was excited to learn more about India and its history.
The feminist in me cringed learning about some of the traditional Indian views with regards to women. The birth of girls was often times not celebrated, but seen as only a financial burden. In some cases, the family would choose to “dispose” of the “burden.” We are also introduced to the practice of purdah. Purdah, is the seclusion of women with clothing, veils, walls, screens, curtains, etc. I know there are many factors that play into this practice, but as someone from the outside looking in, it seems like a way for men to control and oppress women. If it is practiced for religious purposes, that is one thing, but it is also practiced from a social perspective. Some rationalize the practice of purdah as protection from men and their sexual urges…as if it is the woman’s fault for tempting a man. I’m going to move on before I really get off on a tangent 🙂 I found the caste system fascinating. The idea that you are born into your caste, or social status, and that you can never change it. From what I understand, karma plays into the selection of your caste. It is thought that if you did something bad in your previous life, that you would come back in a lower caste as punishment. I felt that Michelle Moran did a wonderful job explaining these concepts and putting them into terms that made it easy to grasp.
Now on to the characters… I love strong female protagonists. I mean who doesn’t? I’m all about the girl power. Sita wasn’t afraid to question the classic gender roles of the time and push their limits. Not only was Sita beautiful, but she was intelligent and strong. She would do anything for her family, even sacrificing her future prospects in order to provide a better life for her sister. Sita was the epitome of honor. It was easy for me to connect with her and cheer her on. Did I mention she was a book worm to boot? While reading this book, I discovered one of my new favorite book quotes…
“For nonreaders, life is simply what they touch and see, not what they feel when they open the pages of a play and are transported to the Forest of Arden or Illyria. Where the world is full of a thousand colors for those who love books, I suspect it is simply black and gray to everyone else. A tree is a tree to them; it is never a magical doorway to another world populated with beings that don’t exist here.”
– Rebel Queen
Bravo Michelle Moran for writing something so beautiful and profound. You perfectly captured the essence what it means to be a book lover.
Sita’s father, was another beloved character for me. In a culture where girls were not revered, he treated his daughters as the most precious things in his life. He taught Sita to read, something unheard of at the time. Not only did he teach her to read in their native language, but he also taught her to read, write, and speak English. By doing this, he instilled a deep love of the written word in her.
Without giving anything away, I thought the book’s antagonist was well developed and believable. It was easy to loath this character by the end.
As far as the plot goes, I thought it was a fast paced and entertaining read. Rebel Queen does have a minor love story that is secondary to the plot. It was a nice addition to the story, but it was not intended to be a well developed love story.
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed this book, there were a few shortcomings as well…
The prologue and epilogue felt as if they were thrown in as an afterthought. I wish the author would have expanded upon the angle she was trying to achieve. Since she didn’t, they seem pretty irrelevant to the story and do nothing to enhance the plot.
The book synopsis was very misleading. The synopsis makes it seem that the book is predominantly about Queen Lakshmi through the eyes of Sita, her female bodyguard, but in reality this is Sita’s story. Furthermore, the synopsis makes it seem as if the battle is a big part of the book, but in reality it is barely portrayed. The “all-female army” is actually a group of 10 women called the Durga Dal, whose sole purpose is to protect the Queen.
Even though I feel like the synopsis is a gross misrepresentation of this book, I enjoyed the story for what it really was, the story of the events leading up to the battle of the rebels against the British who were there to steal their land. But mostly, this is the story of Sita, in her quest to become one of the Durga Dal, and her role in the conflict.
I guess my biggest criticism is that this book needed to be longer. I felt like there were many different aspects that were underdeveloped that I would have loved for the author to expand upon.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and cannot wait to read more of Moran’s books.
“We’ve all done things we’d rather keep in the dark. It’s only by shedding light on them that our demons can disappear.”
– Rebel Queen
“And grief, for anyone who has ever experienced grief, for anyone who has ever experienced it, is exactly like a predator. It steals first your happiness, and then – if you allow it – everything else.”
– Rebel Queen
“Inside, I choked down the feelings that threatened to overwhelmed me. I would survive this. I’d survived worse things. After all, I was bamboo, and bamboo bends. It doesn’t break.”
– Rebel Quee
My Rating: 4/5 stars!
About the Author
Michelle Moran is the international bestselling author of seven historical novels. A native of southern California, she attended Pomona College, then earned a Masters Degree from the Claremont Graduate University. During her six years as a public high school teacher she used her summers to travel around the world, and it was her experiences as a volunteer on archaeological digs that inspired her to write historical fiction.
In 2012 Michelle was married in India, inspiring her seventh book, Rebel Queen, which is set in the East. Her hobbies include hiking, traveling, and archaeology. She is also fascinated by archaeogenetics, particularly since her children’s heritages are so mixed. But above all these things Michelle is passionate about reading and can often be found with her nose in a good book. A frequent traveler, she currently resides with her husband, son, and daughter in the US. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.