Reviewed by Margaret Tomlinson
Sita, who narrates Rebel Queen, grows up in a village in mid-nineteenth-century India where the custom of purdah confines women to their homes. Her father makes the unusual decision to have her trained in weaponry to give her a chance to join the all-female bodyguard of Queen Lakshmi.
Queen Lakshmi was a historical person. She married the Maharajah of Jhansi in 1842, during the decades when the British East India Company had effectively taken control of most of India. The Company recognized the Maharajah as Jhansi's nominal ruler, but influenced his policies through the implicit threat of taking over if they did not favor the Company. Lakshmi was influential in her husband's rule and after his death, when the British violated their agreement that she would continue to rule as regent for her son, she led an army against them in a desperate attempt to keep her kingdom independent.
The novel is a well-researched blend of history and fiction. From beginning to end, Sita is faced with difficult choices that call for courage and integrity. Customs in the Maharajah's court are as strange to her as, for most readers, the customs in both her village and the court will be. Moran inserts a sentence or two of explanation as various customs become important to the story, without slowing its fast pace. The fascinating and tragic history of Colonial India is woven through a powerful, emotionally engaging story - and becomes all the more memorable because of that.Like many a novel about a spirited young woman adapting to life in a glittering medieval court in France or England, Rebel Queen plunges readers into a world very different from our own, a world of shimmering silks, priceless jewels, pageantry and political intrigue where a girl must grow up fast if she is to avoid disaster. Readers who enjoy this type of story and are looking for a fresh setting will be delighted by this novel. (2015, 354 pages, including a Historical Note and a Glossary; titled The Last Queen of India in the U.K.) More about Rebel Queen at Powell's Books or Amazon.com