“We can help pave the roads of those around us, but we can’t choose their direction.”
I thought this quote best represented Sita, the main character in Michelle Moran’s “Rebel Queen”. Sita is a poor village girl whose father has grand aspirations for his oldest daughter. A former soldier who fought for the British in Burma, Sita’s father hopes to train her to join the rani’s (queen’s) Durgavasi (personal guard of female soldiers). These women were highly skilled in archery and other forms of defense, but were also highly educated, accomplished individuals. If chosen, the girl would leave the confines of her home and be paid more than most Indian families would ever see in their lifetimes.
Sita becomes one of the Rani Lakshmi’s personal guards and sends money home to create a dowry for her younger sister. She believes that in leaving the only home she’s ever known, she will be able to provide for them and ensure them better lives. At the palace, the world Sita has glimpsed only in works of literature comes sharply into focus, where she experiences court politics, a forbidden love, and a looming civil war. The British are slowly taking control of the country, kingdom by kingdom, and after the raja and his heir die, the rani must choose whether to remain neutral or fight for the kingdom. Sita, always faithful to her family, can’t protect everyone as the British fight to quell the rebellion.
I loved how Moran chose to reveal Sita to us through her love of classic literature. It helped bridge the cultural divide and helped us get to know Sita despite an upbringing with which few of us would have any real understanding. It’s unusual to have a female protagonist who is physically strong, brave, and smart, which is why I think characters such as Katniss in the “Hunger Games” hold such appeal. Sita is one of those characters.
“For non-readers, life is simply what they touch and see, not what they feel when they open the pages of a play and are transported…”
Some have complained that all the Indian terms that needed explanation weighed down the story. I think most of it was handled well, with minimal interruption in the narrative. I would have much rather the glossary be at the beginning of the book rather than at the end, however, as I think other e-book readers (like me) don’t realize there is a glossary until we’ve finished the book. What I did find frustrating were the geographical allusions. Without a map or much knowledge of the country, those references were meaningless to me, unfortunately.
I found this to be an engaging, and most of all enlightening tale, told by a strong, intelligent, and unique story teller. Writing this story through the eyes of the rani would have been too ordinary, I think. The choice of Sita gives the readers an insider’s look into palace life and the rani’s futile struggle for independence. See if you agree…
Amazon link is here.