If I wasn’t already sold on the idea of audio books, experiencing this book through the superb narration of Sneha Mathan would have certainly sealed it for me.
Rebel Queen, by Michelle Moran, is a historical novel set in mid-nineteenth century India, during the time of British occupation. The story is told through the voice of Sita, a young woman who becomes a member of Rani Lakshmi’s Durga Dal (elite women fighters trained to specifically guard the queen). Written in the style of a memoir, this story is deeply personal.
Because of this memoir style, Moran allows the story to take a meandering course through Sita’s life beginning with her early years growing up in a small village. At times, the narrative wanders as Sita reminisces, but these side trips only serve to deepen and enrich the story.
Moran has painted an incredible picture of life in a Hindu village where women were required to remain veiled and were not allowed outside their home. Her family has no money for a dowry, and so Sita is put into a position where she must either become a temple prostitute, or train to become a part of the Durga Dal.
Sita is ultimately chosen to join the Durga Dal and moves into the royal city of Jhansi. Here she begins a whole new life so far removed from her village upbringing. A life filled with intrigue at every level.
This book is well written, the story and the suspense building so naturally I didn’t even mind that the title character – the rebel queen – doesn’t even make an appearance until well into the book. Even then, Rani Lakshmi remains a background character to Sita’s story, though an important one.
I have little experience or knowledge of the history and culture of India, so I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of Moran’s writing. Nevertheless, she has painted a picture of a world that feels very real and believable. This book makes me wish I did know more about Indian culture.
Rebel Queen is a deeply moving story, one I highly recommend. And while I’m sure the print version of this book is equally enjoyable, I must say, you’ll miss out on something special if you don’t try the audio narrated by Sneha Mathan. Her performance is truly stunning.