As someone who found my world history textbooks lacking in strong women leaders, I’ve gravitated towards historical fiction to fill that gaps. Thanks to many novels, I’ve traveled to India and ancient Egypt and walked in the shoes of powerful queens. As soon as my review copy of Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran arrived, I eagerly dug in. And finished the book in one sitting.
Set on the cusp of Britain’s colonization of India, Queen Lakshmi fights to keep her throne and preserve her people’s way of life. She gathers a powerful army of men and her trusted women warriors to keep the British empire at bay. In fact, Lakshmi’s actions earns her the name of Rebel Queen in England. Her story is told through the eyes of Sita, one of her female bodyguards. Raised in a small town, Sita was raised in purdah. She was not allowed to leave her home or speak to other men without her father’s permission. With no dowry to speak of, Sita’s father trains her so that one day she may join the queen’s private army.
I don’t know very much about this time period of India, but the colorful world of the India court leapt off the page. Some novels set in pre-colonial India focuses on the jewels and riches, but Rebel Queen gives a glimpse into the aristocracy and the lower castes, like Sita. Telling Queen Lakshmi from Sita’s perspective was perfect because as she learned about the world around her, so does the reader.
At the beginning, I found Sita’s explanation of the caste system and Indian mythology a little too obvious and simplified. However, it works in the context of Sita’s story–she’s been asked to write a memoir for the British about her former life in Queen Lakshmi’s court. In the early 1900s, I doubt very many British truly understood the people that they forcibly colonized. Once I turned that last page I was simultaneously sad that the story was over and excited because I wanted to learn more about Queen Lakshmi.
I highly recommend Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran. If you enjoy reading novels about strong female characters, this book is overflowing with independent women who were not afraid to take control of their destiny.