There is a particular set of things that I was always on the hunt for as a young teen reader: a princess who railed against what was expected of her, an unwanted betrothal, and the slow burn of love blossoming with a roguish stranger who becomes a friend. Buttercup, Cimorene, Eilonwy – I loved the princesses who shoved and quipped their way to freedom and romance.
The Star-Touched Queen takes up the rebellious princess gauntlet, giving us Mayavati, the bookish daughter of a Raja who has lived her whole life under the shadow of a terrible horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction. When crisis threatens her father’s kingdom, she pledges herself to a mysterious husband who won’t tell her who he truly is or even show her his face. She soon finds herself queen of the beautiful and empty kingdom of Akaran, and the deeper she delves into its mysteries, the more she begins to suspect that her charming new husband Amar is hiding something important. As love and distrust war inside her, she must remember her soul’s past in order to choose the threads of her destiny.
I was delighted to discover that while the tone of Star-Touched Queen has a languid, dreamy feel, it is nonetheless populated by women who are not here to put up with any nonsense. Mayavati may be a little prone to moping and allowing herself to be swayed by the hotness of her impromptu husband, but she never shirks when it comes to making difficult decisions. She is decisive and takes responsibility for her choices, even when they turn out badly. The other female characters are likewise both difficult and deeply sympathetic, and even though Mayavati spends a large portion of the book isolated, her connections and memories of these women are sustained and form the emotional core of the story.
In some ways, even though the romance between Mayavati and Amar is always at the forefront of the plot, I feel more invested the relationships she builds with her little sister, Gauri and her demon-horse companion, Kamala. In particular, the hostility and danger that marks Mayavati’s early interactions with Kamala and then blossoms into respect and eventually fondness rings very true for a relationship that is compromised from the start. For me, their bond feels more earned than that between Mayavati and Amar, which relies heavily on Mayavati internalizing feelings and memories that she has forgotten.
That said, those who feel drawn to the mysterious stranger trope will find a lot to like in Amar, and the love story in The Star-Touched Queen offers up the sort of destined-by-the-stars romance that becomes fascinating in the context of past lives and reincarnation. Adding to the mood, the language in The Star-Touched Queen evokes all of the senses: you can hear the clank of golden bangles and feel the drag of rich silks over skin. All of the settings are lovingly rendered, and we move from the cloistered harem in Bharata to the mysterious Night Bazaar to the eerie emptiness of Akaran in steady, measured steps. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to explore elements from Indian folklore through this carefully woven love story: it casts a gentle spell of romance and starlight.
The Star-Touched Queen is available now from St. Martin’s Press.
Caitlyn Paxson is a writer and storyteller. She is an editor at Goblin Fruit, and can sometimes be found discussing folklore and pop culture on the Fakelore Podcast or performing with the Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours.