It’s been a long time since I last read a novel set in India. (My unhappy 9th grade experience with Siddhartha might have something to do with that.) Whatever the reason, I came to this book without expectation, and was easily immersed in a world before there was a unified India.
Rebel Queen is told from the point of view of Sita, one of the historical Queen Lakshmi’s bodyguards. Yeah. Seriously. There were queen’s guards. And they were women. And if that’s not enough to interest you, how can we be friends?
It’s through Sita’s eyes we see the increasingly difficult situation of royalty trying to negotiate in a world ruled by the British East India Company. And we come to understand just how it is that Queen Lakshmi, the Rani of Jhansi, became one of the all-time most famous fighters against British colonialism.
If you want a very rude but apparently historically accurate quick & dirty summary, consult Badass of the Week. But if you want the poignant, heartbreaking story read Michelle Moran’s book.
Because it is beautiful. It’s immersive. It’s compelling. It’s effortlessly educational. And it also doesn’t make easy dismissive judgments. The authorial eye doesn’t spare Sita’s cultural upbringing and its cruelty to women. Even by other women, like Sita’s poisonous grandmother who would rather have given her over to be a temple prostitute than allow her to become one of the queen’s guards. Moran’s authorial eye also does not spare the British for their dehumanizing of pretty much everyone from that same culture, and Queen Victoria in particular comes off pretty badly.
It was not only a good read, but I came away with a better understanding of how it is that we came to be where we are, politically, in the world at this moment. And that’s some of the highest praise I can give a novel. More please!