Today, girls are told that they can be whatever they want. They can become authors or engineers; they can raise families or stay single; they can travel the world or get a Ph.D. Sita does not have those options in mid-nineteenth-century India. Her mother died years ago, her grandmother is a bitter schemer, and her father is deaf. Having narrowly escaped a brothel in her youth, she now trains to become a member of the queen’s Durga Dal. Becoming a member of the rani’s all-female personal guard will ensure a good life for her family and a badly needed marriage dowry for her little sister, Anu.
When she gets accepted into the elite group, Sita believes that her family’s troubles are nearly over. Yet when it seems like things are looking up, everything comes crashing down. The palace at Jhansi is full of shimmering saris and blissful freedom, but underneath the wonder lies a fragile political state. England’s invasion of India is as of yet still an alliance, but one wrong move and Jhansi will fall. Sati tries to protect her family from the horrors of war, but she lies at an important crossroads. What matters most to her – protecting the queen, finding true love, or saving her family? This intriguing novel will sweep you into a world full of glamour, treason, and bravery.
I am very hard to please when it comes to historical fiction. On my checklist are realistic characters, smart allusions to true events, real people portrayed honestly, and a storyline that doesn’t get lost in a mess of ancient jargon. Rebel Queen passed the test with flying colors! Much of pop culture focuses on Bollywood, and a typical high school history class skims over Buddha. While I already knew about the castes, Hinduism, and sati, this book gave me a fascinating new perspective on Indian history.
I was surprised to realize that the book was not told from the perspective of the “Rebel Queen,” Rani Lakshmibai. To my relief, Sita was an excellent narrator. Since the story is told from first person, the reader gets to know all of her thoughts and emotions. Those feelings add humanity to the history, which makes the 300-plus page book go by quickly. Sita is fierce and loyal. Her flaws ground her. As expected, there is a romance; however, it is not sappy or foolish. I liked how it actually emphasized the culture of 1800s India.
Life at the palace was really interesting. Readers could see the very different lives of a servant, a guard, and a royal. I’m used to reading about Elizabethan ladies-in-waiting who were busy catching husbands, so reading about female warriors who would not get married was refreshing. The politics was in the usual vein of we-must-have-a-male-heir-or-else, but the Indian culture made it unique from the European histories.
I’m no expert on India, so I can’t give a definitive answer when it comes to historical accuracy. There are many years given throughout the chapters, specific laws written, and the author included a note explaining what things she changed. Either way, the detailed (but not dull) descriptions made me want to read a nonfiction book about India.
People who enjoy this book might also like Climbing the Stairs, by Padma Venkatraman. It takes place in World War II, and it references some of the events that take place in Rebel Queen. It could almost be considered a sequel, since the intelligent main character seems like she could be a descendent of Sita!
I adored this rich, engrossing tale of nineteenth-century India. I can’t wait to read Moran’s other historical novels!