While I make an effort to complete most books I read, every once in a while I come upon one that I just can’t get through. When I find myself repeatedly putting down a book to the point that attempting to finish it is taking up weeks of my time, I sometimes come to the conclusion that a book is a book, not a life and death contract to read until completion. There are too many books in the world that I will never get to to spends days on end trying to finish a book that I already know will not be my cup of tea. Sadly, one such of these books came across my desk recently.
Book: “The Star-Touched Queen” by Roshani Chokshi
Publishing Info: St. Martin’s Griffin, April 2016
Where Did I Get this Book: audiobook from the library!
Book Description: Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.
Review: Thankfully, it’s been a while since I’ve had to write a DNF review. There have been a few stinkers here and there, but usually I was able to push through for one reason or another. In all honesty, I’m not quite sure what makes up the real difference between a very low rated book that I managed to get through, and one that I just put down. But with this one, since it was an audiobook, I had the extra discouragement of looking down at my book and seeing how many hours, and hours, and hours were left of it. And I just couldn’t.
The story is one that we’ve all (those of us who read fantasy/fairy tale fiction, at least) read before. And that’s not a mark against it! I love “Beauty & the Beast”/”East of the Sun, West of the Moon”/Hades & Persephone stories. They’re probably my favorite of the typical fairytale inspiration pieces out there. And luckily for me, there are a lot of them. But unluckily for this book, there are a lot of them THAT ARE BETTER.
As Kate and I have said many times, each reader has their book and each book, its reader. What’s more, this was a very popular book when it come out so I know this is an unpopular opinion. And I can even see some of the aspects that would have drawn other readers to it. For me, the best part of this story was its connection to India, its traditions, food, clothes, and own fairytales and legends. This setting and cultural connection provided a unique stage upon which to set a very familiar story. And if it had been successful in other ways, I would have been praising this all the day long for pushing the conventions of what we’re used to seeing for stories like this.
However, it was not successful in other ways. There were three main flaws that lead me to reaching a breaking point with this book: the main character, the instalove relationship, and the writing style itself.
Maya is a terrible leading character. If you asked me right now to name personality traits for this character, I couldn’t. Is she brave? Does she have a good sense of humor? What drives her? I don’t have an answer. In the very beginning of this book, we get a few hints that she has an interest in scholarly pursuits, but this never comes into play throughout the rest of the story, leaving it less as a character development piece and more of a “oh, well Disney’s Belle loved books, so…” What’s worse, the entire story is driven by events happening around her and her being lead by the nose by others. She literally decides to kill herself because someone tells her to. And then five minutes later, marries a complete stranger because he tells her to. She also has strong tendencies towards the “too stupid too live” trope. What’s that? The castle is dangerous and might tempt me down bad paths? Yes! I will immediately run away from those I know and not tell them about a mysterious door that is COVERED IN BURN MARKS AND CHAINS that is calling to me. Nothing suspicious there!
This all leads into the instalove. Amar arrives out of no where, tells her to marry him, and then proceeds to wax poetic about his great love for her throughout the rest of the story. But why. Not only can I not identify a single personality trait that Maya can call her own (besides cow-like docility, perhaps), but given the nature of their “marriage” they know nothing about one another. It’s not flattering to have a complete stranger proclaim undying love, it’s creepy. What’s worse, the “happy ending,” as it were, is arrived at about halfway through the story. But, again, because Maya is an idiot, she must make terrible decisions and ruin this. Again, because a complete stranger tells her to and against all of the “love” that she has for Amar.
The older I’ve gotten, the more curmudgeony I’ve been about instalove stories. I never liked them, but now it’s almost an immediate death knoll to any enjoyment I might find in a book. Do you know what readers mostly like about romance? They like reading about how it develops! What makes these two people form this incredible and rare connection with each other? How do they learn to know, trust, and rely on the other? What challenges do they overcome, either plot-wise or emotionally to make this burgeoning relationship work? I only need about a paragraph tops of them fully in love telling readers about how great it is. Authors like this have taken literally the most boring part of the story and made it the ENTIRE story.
And this ties neatly to the writing itself. This book takes purple prose and melodrama to a whole new level. If you cut out the metaphors (and that’s a generous term for what’s going on here) and sugary drool of prose out of this book, you’d be left with maybe half? a third? of what the book is now. Let me put my English major nerd glasses on for a moment here. A metaphor or simile or comparative description of some kind is meant to draw an image in the reader’s mind. It might not be the common image associated with whatever you’re discussing, but it must be clear and make sense.
“I want to measure eternity with your laughter.”
“I see only night and smoke, dreams and glass, embers and wings. And I would not have you any other way.”
What does this mean. Seriously. What. And that’s only two examples. When it wasn’t straight out not making a lick of sense, the insta-love congealed with the prose to form a sappy, saccharine, gushy mess. Amar (again, after knowing Maya for a day) says that he would literally trade anything…for a strand of her hair.
His voice echoed with all the desperation of someone who has not slaked his thirst in eons and had just spied a goblet of water sweating beads of condensation, thick as planets. His voice lulled me, coated me.
Sentence, after sentence, after sentence of this. It was exhausting. If, as an author, you just want to string together pretty words that sound pretty together, perhaps write a nice poem. A novel requires more. Words that makes sense together is a very low bar.
I did not enjoy this book at all. The Indian setting was unique and there was a horse friend that I liked, but neither were enough to get me past the overly wrought language and a heroine who I began to actively root against shortly into the book. There was a very distinct decision that she made about halfway through the book that cemented my decision to put this down, and I really have no regrets. There are too many books in the world. And, most notable in this case, there are too many books in the world that tell almost this exact same story but do it well. I actually moved straight on to “Cruel Beauty,” a book this has been compared to, and am already enjoying it so much more. And I’m on page 30.
“The Star-Touched Queen” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Hades and Persephone” and “South Asian YA/MG.”
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