Set in 19th-century India, Moran’s latest novel (after The Second Empress) recounts the story of the legendary Rani of Jhansi, the young Indian queen who led her people in revolt against the British, and Sita, one of her remarkable female bodyguards. Written from Sita’s perspective, the novel depicts both life at the royal court of Jhansi and everyday life for women in India. Most females of the time have little freedom and are raised in seclusion. Sita’s family cannot give her a dowry, so she is to be dedicated as a temple prostitute until her father intervenes and trains her to be a warrior in the queen’s service. In Jhansi Sita finds freedom, opportunity, friendship, and betrayal, and she must discover whom she can trust as there are those who plot to take Jhansi for themselves.
VERDICT: Filled with fascinating historical details about a subject that is not often portrayed, the novel looks at both the rights of women and the conflict between the British Empire and India in a fairly unbiased way. Sita and Rani Lakshmibai are strong and independent women in an era when women didn’t hold much power. Readers who have enjoyed Moran’s previous works will not want to miss this. A helpful glossary is included. —Christina Thurairatnam
Moran follows up her popular books The Heretic Queen (2008), Madame Tussaud (2009), and Cleopatra’s Daughter (2011) with another historical novel about a strong female protagonist, this time set in the mid-nineteenth century, during Britain’s colonization of India. The British government expected minimal resistance: India wasn’t a country so much as an assortment of independent and frequently warring small kingdoms. But the ruler of one kingdom, Queen Lakshmi, led a surprise rebellion that showed the rest of India and the world that there were alternatives to lying down before the might of the British Empire. This often deeply moving novel focuses on its characters, allowing history to play out as a backdrop to the personal story of a young woman who would risk everything, including her own life, for her people. Fans of the author’s earlier novels will almost certainly greet this one with enthusiasm, but, because it’s not tied to Moran’s earlier books, it’s perfect for new historical-fiction readers, too.