The hunt for the Moran book that tops Madame Tussaud is still on, but I definitely enjoyed this one way more than her last effort, Second Empress.
Those who follow my reviews know that as far as I am concerned you can write your historical fiction as far out on the historical accuracy plain as you please. Just give a solid author’s note at the end letting we the readers know where you deviated from fact. This novel, which occurs in the court of Queen Lakshmi during India’s British colonial era of the mid-nineteenth century, does not cover a person or time period that I am at all familiar with, so as I read, I was reading purely for entertainment. However, as is my usual MO, after reading I did some research and found that the bones of this novel are far more based in fact than those of Second Empress, which I panned for a number of reasons, among them the inaccuracies that were presented as fact.
This is a novel full of powerful women, women strong in spirit, body and determination. However, similar to The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, a novel marketed as being about Catherine the Great, Rebel Queen is somewhat falsely advertised. Like Stachniak, Moran chooses to center her novel around a member of the more famous character’s retinue, and the queen becomes very much a background character. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it is through the background of Sita, a girl driven to become a member of Lakshmi’s famed all female guard, that the reader truly gains an appreciation of what attaining the position could mean. My irritation is that I am tired of reading, and reading, and reading, waiting for the genuine historical figure, about whom the story is purported to be written, to step up into the spotlight. Since very few people have ever heard of Lakshmi, I felt the artifice on the part of the marketing department was unnecessary. The story of her guard is equally compelling, and I felt the book could have been marketed on Sita’s merits, notwithstanding those of Lakshmi.
Once you accept the fact that Lakshmi is not going to take over as the central character and you begin to embrace Sita as your leading lady, the novel becomes a wonderfully engaging story. It has been awhile since I read a story that sucked me in from the outset and had me flipping pages to see where the plot was leading. Although you know from the beginning that Sita will win a rare and coveted spot in Lakshmi’s guard, Moran keeps the journey from village girl to court pebbled with enough deviations to keep the reader interested. Her characterizations are colorful and diverse, and she gives the reader a satisfying sense of place.