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Kaikeyi - Review

*I received the physical, E-Arc, and audio copy from Orbit Books via Net Galley. All reviews are my own.*

I am a sucker for Queendom in the Historical Fiction genre. So when I saw the cover of debut author Vaishnavi Patel's Kaikeyi, I knew this was going to be the one. Doctored as a loosely based magical-realism biography, we get a prism perspective of India's most beloved and disgraced Queen in her era.

"So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.
Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.
But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind."

So to settle some confusion: Kaikeyi is based on the Hindu epic, The Rāmāyana. The Rāmāyana tells the story of Rama (Kaikeyi's stepson) and his 14-year exiled journey in a forest. It kind of reminds you of The Odyssey, right? Twisting the story a little, author Patel decided to delve into the untold version of Kaikeyi. The Queen was condemned as an evil person throughout history who only sought power for herself and her bloodline. But Patel decided to show a new light towards the misunderstood young Queen. So begins Kaikeyi's story.

I appreciated this tale. It showed a girl who quickly realized that she didn't have the same opportunities as her counterparts and sought to change it. She negotiated her way to the top, but she also made sure to help women along the way who felt they needed power and counsel from their Queen. Thus, Kaikeyi started a women's empowerment movement, one of the first of its kind in Ancient India. From riding out to war with her husband to becoming a strong-willed diplomat, Kaikeyi became a force to be reckoned with. Plus, it doesn't hurt that she had the power of the Gods to help bend the people's will in her favor.

The magical portion of this story can easily be viewed as a real thing. If studied right, some may say the power of meditation can open your mind to experience closed-off chakras. In this instance, Kaikeyi became "God-touched" as she is one of the rare few people who is blessed with entering "The Binding Plane" to change the course of life threads. The search for the God's blessing and trying to understand the power she held reminded me of portions of R. F. Kuang's The Poppy War.

What impressed me the most about this story is how Patel was able to make the character an anti-hero. As I mentioned before, in the original ballad, Kaikeyi was this evil, power-hungry Queen, whereas Patel made her character a misunderstood soul. What led to the favorite Queen instantly becoming the most hated in the realm? It was an entertaining trek watching how the Queen's favor turned sour over time.

Overall I rated the book 4-stars. The story of Kaikeyi did not disappoint me, though the audio version lacked personality. The narrator, Soneela Nankani, sounded like the robotic version of Emily Woo Zeller (The Poppy War series), and I had to speed up the process. But while reading the text, I fell into memoirs of Kaikeyi and her reign. The text is rich, like Daughters of the Moon Goddess, and it's a retelling that I will do more research on heavily, so this is grade A in my book! I believe this is a standalone novel, but I kind of hope Patel continues to expand on The Rāmāyana poem. Even though her story does not center around Kaikeyi's stepson, it would be cool to see a continued series surrounding Ram through other people's accounts.

Kaikeyi is available now

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