Maya was born with a terrible horoscope, one that dooms her to marry death, so no man will marry her. So Maya has been focused on her education, since she knows she will never marry. She is detested in the kingdom’s harem and spends much of her time up in the rafters where she can listen in on her father’s throne room. That is how she hears that he plans to have her married off to save the kingdom, despite her horoscope. As Maya becomes a political pawn, her father asks her for the ultimate sacrifice to give her life for peace in her kingdom. Just as Maya is about to sacrifice herself however, war arrives at the kingdom and she is dazzled by a young man she has never met before. Soon her life becomes filled with options she has never considered and magic she never knew was more than tales.
Chokshi makes this book so much more than what it sounds like above. She first creates a world filled with restrictions for women, who are seen only as sexual beings or as collateral to be used for leverage. It is a world where women fight behind the scenes for power, where spite and anger lurk constantly. It is a world of immense wealth and plenty and yet no freedom. Then, and this is what makes this book exceptional, Chokshi turns it all on its head. Readers and the main character move away from those strictures of society and are plopped into a world with its own rules. It is a world of pure power, immense magic and yet rules too.
Against those two diverse worlds, Maya is shown to be a teenager of real distinction. She manages to gain an education where it should not have been a priority. She makes a dire choice and then discovers lust and potentially love. But her path is not straight at all, it moves from princess to queen to something else entirely, something dark and thrilling. It is in that third life where she discovers real power and real love.
This daring and lush novel is filled with excellent world building and one strong teen protagonist who has to save the world. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from library copy.