I had high hopes for this YA adventure. I was promised a loose Hades and Persephone retelling, I was promised Indian mythology inspired stuff, fairy tale vibes, and a romance. What I got was a trip to YA trope land with bad writing and lots of plot problems. But also with some potential. Even for a debut novel, this wasn’t very good, but it also wasn’t bad enough for me to write off the author completely.
THE STAR-TOUCHED QUEEN
by Roshani Chokshi
Published: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2016
eBook: 352 pages
Series: The Star-Touched Queen #1
My rating: 3.5/10
Opening line: Staring at the sky in Bharata was like exchanging a secret.
Fate and fortune. Power and passion. What does it take to be the queen of a kingdom when you’re only seventeen?
Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.
Things start out well enough. Maya is a Princess who is cursed with a really, really bad horoscope in a world and culture where people put stock into such things. When the stars promise that you’ll be married to Death, suitors don’t exactly come knocking by the dozens, the other girls in the Raja’s harem don’t want to be your friends, and even servants may avoid you whenever possible. So Maya’s life is somewhat lonely, except for her young sister Gauri who loves hearing Maya tell stories. Fairy tales and myths and legends – oh how I would have loved to share in that pastime with them. Unfortunately, us real-world readers get almost no legends or myths or fairy tales. We’re just told that they exist and are great.
When the Raja decides to marry Maya off for political reasons, things don’t exactly go as planned. Instead of the sacrifice she is supposed to make for her people and her home, a man named Amar spirits her off to Akaran where she is to be his wife, horoscope be damned. And that’s where the really boring part starts and the tropes go completely overboard.
Because – of course – Amar can’t really tell Maya anything important for magical reasons. Once the moon has turned, she’ll learn everything there is to know. Until then, she should just be meek and shut up and not explore her new castle too much. Which is a rather empty place, by the way. Except for her, Amar, and his assistant Gupta (who disappears whenever it’s convenient for the plot and only reappers at the very end when the author seems to have remembered that he exists), there is nobody there. So Maya explores the castle, which leads to some very, very boring chapters where nothing happens, we learn nothing new, and where even wonders that shouldn’t be possible (because magic) are taken for granted. Like, girl, you lived in the real world, aren’t you at least a little surprised to have mirrors in your new home that work like portals and let you look into other places?
Also, this is the part where the “romance” happens. If by romance you mean that two people exist in the same room together, find each other pretty and then randomly kiss someday. Also, Amar keeps the upper part of his face hidden to be extra mysterious and sexy, but when he finally reveals himself, there’s nothing special about it. Like, he’s handsome and all but there’s no reason for him to have kept his eyes hidden before. I still don’t get what that was about. But then I also didn’t get the attraction between them because we are only ever told things and never, ever, shown them. Their supposed undying love is ridiculous so I also didn’t care when it was threatened.
After a series of maybe not so smart, but to my happy surprise understandable, decisions, a plot of sorts finally kicks off. We’re talking the half-way mark of the book here, so don’t get too excited. Maya has done something stupid which has dire consequences and so now she has to try and fix things. This led me to hope once more that the book would tell a story that’s more than two people saying incredibly sappy things to each other for no reason whatsoever. I mean, this is the sort of writing you can expect:
His stare slipped beneath my skin. And when he saw my eyes widen, he smiled. And in that moment, his smile banished my loneliness and limned the hollows of my anima with starlight, pure and bright.
There are myriad instances of descriptions or dialogue where I simply asked myself what that’s even supposed to mean. The prose is so purple, even I though it was too much, and I’m a fan of Cat Valente and China Miéville, two writers who know a bazillion words and aren’t afraid to show them off.
As for the Indian-inspired mythology and setting, I would really have liked to get a bit more of that. Because what the author did was throw in lots of words without explanation or description, expecting that to do all the legwork for he world building. But when you don’t know there’s a glossary at the end of the book, you can get frustrated really quickly by the amount of names for mythological creatures that are just thrown in there without ever explaining what they are, what they look like, etc.
I generally like when an author expects something from their readers, like looking up things for themselves or understanding stuff by context. But if you give me literally nothing but a word, and then throw in three other words in the same paragraph, do you really think I’m going to stop reading to look each of them up on the internet so Google can do your author work for you and let me know who and what these creatures are? That can’t be in the author’s interest either, as it would totally disrupt the reading flow. But oh well, I still don’t know what a bhut is or a raksha or a timingala. One of them has fins I guess…
One of the few redeeming qualities of this book is (wait for it) the horse character! Not only is it the only positive female friendship in this book that has any meaning (Gauri’s name may be dropped but as we didn’t get any shared memories or development of that relationship, it’s totally meaningless), but Kamala the horse may also be the single most fleshed-out character in this entire book. She has her own way of speaking which may be a little creepy at times – she threatens to eat people a lot – but my god was it refreshing to read about her! Other than that, every single character might as well have been a shadow wearing a name tag. Amar’s name tag must also read “smoldering and full of cheesy one-liners” but that’s it.
There is no proper plot to follow, the world and characters change as needed for the author to reach her super cheesy conclusion. She wanted so badly to write impactful scenes but apparently forgot that, in order to make readers feel stuff, she has do to the build-up for that. Make us know and like the characters, show us why they belong together, put them in danger, make us fear for them, make us feel literally anything! Only then can big words have actual meaning, only then can the touch of a hand send electric sparks up our readerly spines, only then is it meaningful when lips touch, when friends are reunited.
This was just boring with occasional hints of promising ideas, but in order to be a good book, it would have needed to do a whole lot of growing up. Much like its protagonist Maya who is the same person at the end of this book despite all the supposedly life-shattering things she learns.
As bad as that sounds, I’m not willing to give up on Roshani Chokshi! I have Gilded Wolves on my TBR and I’m hoping that with a heist novel, there is no way she can make the same mistakes again. I mean, a heist novel needs a plot that makes sense and it also more than two recurring characters. My hope is that Chokshi developed and grew as an author in between these books. My expectations are definitely lower than they were, though.
MY RATING: 3.5/10 – Bad
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