Rebel Queen by Michelle Moran
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Although I usually avoid this sort of book, being suspicious of most western, orientalist portrayals of the “east,” I do love picking up random books from the many nearby little neighborhood libraries (those wonderful front-lawn libraries-on-a-post that have sprung up in recent years). This one leapt out at me, so I blazed through it over the past few days. The basic story was interesting enough to hold me to the end, but that’s built into the historical material: the clash of cultures, colonization, rebellion, etc. Beyond that, the book was a disappointment.
First, I tripped over the language. Moran makes use of some astoundingly clunky imagery. Consider a few examples:
“As anyone who’s ever lived inside a house of eggshells knows, nothing is more fragile.”
“I became like a frozen stream—hard and impenetrable on the outside, but secretly bursting with life within.”
“By the time we rode out, the lump in my throat had grown so large I could hardly swallow.”
“Love can be like the seasons, turning a green leaf into something frail and yellow.”
Hello… editor? How did these make it into the final draft? Those first two are on the same bloody page. On the bright side, as a writing teacher, it’s always good to find such stink bombs. I’ve already shared them with one English class… and even seventh graders recognized their flaws.
Second, the book succeeded in dampening my interest in the title character (the famed Rani of Jhansi). I was certainly sympathetic to the rebel cause, but after reading page after page about the overwrought opulence of the Rani, the Raja, and the members of their court, and then contrasting this with the lives of the bulk of the people in their community, it was difficult to maintain a sense of sympathy. When the British first annex Jhansi, there is a chapter that focuses on the Rani being forced out of her stupendous palace and moving to a smaller, older, stupendous palace. It’s filled with pathos, with lines like, “Thousands of people lined the roads to watch our procession to our new home, and they were utterly silent.” And the dramatic tension was sustained by focusing on whether the Rani would be able to keep her stuff, including her “elaborate peacock throne” made of emerald studded gold. But luckily, in the midst of central drama of who gets to keep the bling, the Rani says, with tears in her eyes, “And what will happen to our people?” See, she really does care!
Ultimately, I recommend reading an actual historical account of this period and these legendary characters rather than this clumsy fictionalized version. And, don’t forget that your house of eggshells is fragile.
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