Source: Netgalley/Touchstone Books – I received this in exchange for an honest review.
Edition: EARC, 368 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Purchase: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Book Depository*
*I receive a small monetary kickback from Amazon purchases
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 I saw Michelle Moran’s upcoming novel as a ‘read now’ on Netgalley I pretty much threw my “I’m not requesting review books for a few months” out the window. I’ve read two of Moran’s previous novels both of which were set in Egypt during the reign of pharaohs, both of which I adored and I’ve been longing to get back into reading historical fiction like I did before I started blogging in earnest. And after two days of doing nothing but reading, eating and sleeping I finished the book and can say, she’s still the amazing writer I remember.
I’m not overly familiar with Indian history thanks to a very brief lecture on it, which namely revolved around Ghandi, and I only know a bit of Indian culture so much of this was new to me. However, from my previous experiences with her work I know that Moran has a very keen eye for details and puts a lot of research into her novels. I also know her husband is Indian and much of his family helped her along the way, so I feel comfortable saying that the story of Rani Lakshmi and Sita were handle with care and brought to life in an incredibly vibrant way. Her writing brings life to a story that I’ve only heard in passing during one of those sterile school lectures that basically coats everything interesting in dust. The words were so vivid that at times I felt I could see the beauty of the Indian temples and cities without really trying. There are a few moments where the information is giving to you by the paragraph, but only because most people reading this book need the explanations for liked like purda or why certain things are deemed offensive and others are not. However I don’t think it really took a toll on the quality of the narrative, and I was quite thankful for those paragraphs while reading. I will say I felt it was a bit short especially with the last portion of the book where I would have liked more info, but Sita (our narrator) explains why the detail is missing and I felt that was well done.
I’m in love with the story of Rani Lakshmi and her Durga Dal, the group of women sworn to protect her. This was one fierce group of women. They could use knives, bows, pistols, and several means of combat to protect their queen…who was a fierce woman in her own right. She held an unheard of amount of power in Jhansi, but she held it with grace and always tried to do what would be best for her people. We follow the story of Sita, a girl from a small village outside of the city of Jhansi, who becomes one of the Rani’s (the queen) Durga Dal. Sita is an incredibly likable and relatable character. She’s soft-spoken, intelligent, humble, and works hard for the betterment of others.
Since finishing the book I’ve been scouring the internet for more information about Lakshmi and the battles they were forced to fight against the British because I’m not ready for the book to be over. Michelle Moran has produced another amazing story from the pages of our history, and reminded me why I always list her as a favorite author of mine.