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!