In The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi weaves a tapestry of myth and magic, love and destiny, time and eternity. This colorful story—Chokshi’s debut novel and the first of a series—features a heroine named Mayavati, or “Maya” for short. The seventeen-year-old daughter of Raja Ramchandra of the kingdom of Bharata, Maya lives in a harem with the Raja’s many wives and children.
She almost never sees her father alone, and her mother is long dead. If all that weren’t difficult enough, Maya also has a bad horoscope—so bad that the other members of her “family” believe her to be cursed, the cause of all their own misfortunes, from soured milk to stillborn children. Maya’s home is a landscape fraught with danger: “Before me, the halls of the harem glittered, sharp as a predator’s eyes. Light clung to the curved torsos of statuettes and skimmed the reflections from still pools of water. In the distance, the great double doors of the harem yawned open and the mellow midday heat crept in from the outside. I could never trust the stillness of the harem.”
Her only solace is her little half-sister, Gauri, who sneaks into her room each night for a bedtime story. Maya is a voracious reader and combines the traditional folktales she finds in the harem’s archives with her own seemingly outlandish embellishments, for a result that never fails to leave Gauri rapt with wonder. “The week before, I had lost myself in the folktales of Bharata,” Maya says. “Stories of elephants who spun clouds, shaking tremors loose from ancient trunks gnarled with the rime of lost cyclones, whirlwinds and thunderstorms. Myths of frank-eyed naga women twisting serpentine, flashing smiles full of uncut gemstones. Legends of a word beneath, above, beside the one I knew—where trees bore edible gems and no one would think twice about a girl with dark skin and a darker horoscope.”
The stories seem like fantasy, but then an unpleasant confrontation with a threatening tutor leaves Maya unsure of what is real. “Now, he seemed smaller,” she observes. “Or maybe I had grown bigger. My surroundings slid away, and all that was left was fire licking at the earth, the edge of a winter eclipse, stars whirling in a forest pool and the pulsing beat of something ancient running through my veins.” The tutor flees in terror, and Maya is left wondering what has just happened. Unfortunately, any search for answers is interrupted by her elusive father’s announcement of a shocking new peace plan: he intends to marry Maya off to a suitor of her choice from among the surrounding rebel kingdoms.
Before she can fully understand what is happening, Maya is whisked away on a fantastical journey that will test her strength and determination, her loyalty and courage, and most especially, the depth of her love. Populated by otherworldly creatures of imagination and legend, The Star-Touched Queen tells the story of a young girl’s quest to claim her rightful place in a world that is more than it seems, as she navigates her way through confusing and dangerous landscapes set against a tumultuous background of ancient lies and betrayal.
As readers encounter the Night Bazaar and the Glass Garden, the Memory Tree and the Star Room, the human realm and the realm of the dead, this magical coming-of-age story becomes “Beauty and the Beast” meets Arabian Nights with a dollop of The Night Circus thrown in for good measure. And there’s a smack-talking demon horse to provide comic relief, too. Adventure-loving readers are advised to grab on to this intricately woven magic carpet and enjoy the ride.
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.