My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Rebel Queen
Before I start this review, I want to congratulate Michelle on the greatest and most beautiful creation she has ever shared with the world. Her name is Collete and she was born February of 2015. What a joy it was to see her and her mom, both glowing with life, just as I had finished the final pages of Michelle’s spellbinding story of her other love, India. I wish you and your family much happiness in the years to come. May the warmth of the sun and the kind love that you have found in your adopted country bring you peace and contentment as you watch your daughter grow in health and beauty.
From the internationally bestselling author of Nefertiti and Cleopatra’s Daughter comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi—India’s Joan of Arc—who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.
When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.
Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies—one male and one female—and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.
Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita—Queen Lakshmi’s most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army—Rebel Queen shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, Nefertiti, and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life.
Michelle is a woman who loves history, but more than that – She is a woman who loves the strong women who made a difference in history. Over the years she has written books on Nefertiti, The Heretic Queen (another Egyptian queen), Cleopatra’s Daughter, The Second Empress (of the Court of self-proclaimed emperor Napoleon Bonaparte), and Madame Tussaud (an extraordinary wax sculpture just prior to and during the French Revolution). Only a woman who is sure of her own worth could begin to address and take on the giants of history that she has and give each of them the breath of life that comes flying of the page of each of her novels with the searing heat of a woman’s passion.
I have long had a love affair with the stories of India. They date back to Rikki Tikki Tavi and The Man Who Would be King by Rudyard Kipling. Then later, I found and fell in love with M M Kaye and The Far Pavilions. The mystic and romanticism that far-away place would take me to planes of wistful fantasy that it seems I never recovered from, or could it have been the longing for the young principal of the English High School of New Delhi that so wanted to whisk me back to India oh so many years ago that is the cause that I have never quit hearing India call my name in the wind?
The Rebel Queen, like her other novels does not just tell a story, it immerses the reader into history. From the first page, you are drawn in to hear a story, and it is told just as a story would be told from one person to another. A dearly loved and very personal story that has great meaning. The story teller was in fact a female guardsman of the Queen and the entire story is told from her point-of-view.
As the story went along, I felt like I was sitting down over a cup of English Tea and listening to her talk and tell her life’s story, just like my great grandmother told me hers when I was young. When something would come along that is no longer done or has changed radically, she would pause and explain why it was the way it was and how it used to be. All was told with loving kindness, like to a child, even though, in reality, it was a letter to an editor for a book. The editor lived in England and still the narrator took the time, as if she were present and she was talking to her face-to-face.
I have read several books and novels about the Sepoy uprising in India but this is the first time I feel that I truly have heard the story from the viewpoint of the people of India. Always before, history has been written and told by the victors, but this voice came from the survivor and the voice who tried to bring reason. It is a new voice and a beautiful voice that stays true to the attitude and lifestyle of the people of the area. But at the same time, the story demonstrated the ugly side of what anger and mob mentality can do. When men cease to think like men and begin to act like mindless animals.
The facts of the story stay true to the history of the events. It is the humanity of the story and the humanity of the Queen who made this one of the most beautiful stories of India and her people I that I have read. It is exceptional for a rebel Queen’s memory to have come down and consistently be remembered by her people for her leadership through a difficult period and her kindness to the people she reigned over. What set the lady apart that her personal guards stood fast when others turned and ran?
The Rebel Queen is a story worth reading and re-reading, just for the joy of the story-telling by Michelle Moran, as well as the beauty of the story itself. I would give Rebel Queen FIVE STARS. Thank you for putting such a huge dollop of love into this book, Michelle. It shows.
A copy of Rebel Queen was provided by Net Galley to read for this review.
Q: Rebel Queen is full of references to canonical works of literature. Like Sita, are you most inspired by William Shakespeare? Who would you name as your top five favorite authors?
A: Without a doubt I am inspired by Shakespeare, and he is definitely among my top five favorite authors, along with Janet Fitch, J. R. R. Tolkien, Douglas Preston, and Erik Larson. I was extremely fortunate to be able to study Shakespeare with a brilliant professor, Martha Andresen, who is now retired. She was phenomenal, and the way she brought Shakespeare’s plays to life made you realize that Shakespeare truly wasn’t of an age but for all time (as his contemporary, Ben Jonson, said). There’s a wonderful book by Harold Bloom called Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, and he sums up better than I ever could what makes the Bard so unique among authors. Perhaps this is why Shakespeare is read in every part of the globe, including India.
Q: This novel, much like your international bestseller Nefertiti, recounts a story based on the real life of long-dead queen from antiquity. What draws you to characters like Rani Lakshmi and Nefertiti?
A: The characters from history who jump out at me are often women who managed to carve powerful roles for themselves in societies where women weren’t typically allowed positions of power or authority. They are also the ones who have lived through some sort of revolution and managed to weather it. Revolution is fascinating to me, whether it’s cultural, religious, or political. In Rebel Queen, the people of India are growing tired of England’s physical and political encroachment on their land. As they begin to voice their displeasure, however, England responds by tightening its grip, and once the people of India take up arms, England sees it as a revolution and acts accordingly, sending in an army to suppress what they see as a “rebellion”. Whenever a rebellion or revolution occurs in a society, new leaders emerge who are often tremendously charismatic or in some other way very interesting. In this case, one of those leaders was Rani Lakshmi.
Q: Why did you decide to tell this story from Sita’s point of view? Is she your favorite character? If not, who is your favorite?
A: I was drawn to Sita because her position in society was so unique. Here was a woman raised in purdah (where women are veiled and confined to their house) who became a part of the queen’s Durga Dal, an elite fighting force made entirely of women. What must that have been like? Women at that time were raised to believe that their place in society was at home–that to step outside the home was dangerous not only to their physical wellbeing, but to their moral and spiritual wellbeing, too. How would a woman like that feel to suddenly shed her veil and step outside? Would she adapt, or would she flee back to what was familiar to her? I wanted to explore all of these emotions, and I couldn’t have done that with any other character but Sita, who is definitely my favorite, yes.
Q: Along similar lines, what was the research process like for Rebel Queen?
A: With each of my novels, the research always begins in the country where the novel takes place. In this case, it was India. Because I married an Indian man, the research for this novel was considerably easier than it would have been without someone to translate Hindi documents for me or take me on a tour of various sites within India. As with each novel, the research involved a lot of traveling and reading, which for me is one of the best parts about writing historical fiction.
Q: Would you characterize this novel as pre-colonial? What larger conversation about the nature of colonization do you hope to join? Is it important to you to show alterative points of view regarding this topic?
A: Yes, I would definitely consider it a pre-colonial novel, since England didn’t actually take over India until after Rani Lakshmi’s death. I think many people, myself included, hear the word colonization and immediately think of Africa. It wasn’t until I was married in India and began touring some of India’s historic sites that I began to think about England’s presence there and what life must have been like under British rule.
Q: The Boston Globe has said that your “artful storytelling skills bring(s)…to vivid life…ancient history.” Do you feel called to certain time periods or characters from history? How do you choose the setting for your novels?
A: Actually, I don’t feel called to certain periods in history. But I do feel called by certain stories, whether they’re set in Egypt, or Rome, or India. So far in my career, each of the books I’ve written have been inspired by various trips I’ve taken. In the case of Nefertiti, it was an archaeological dig in Israel, followed by a trip to Egypt. In the case of Cleopatra’s Daughter, it was a trip to Rome. And in the case of Rebel Queen, it was my marriage and subsequent tour of India.
Michelle Moran is the international bestselling author of six historical novels, including Madame Tussaud, which was optioned for a mini-series in 2011. Her books have been translated into more than twenty languages.
A native of southern California, Michelle attended Pomona College, then earned a Masters Degree from the Claremont Graduate University. During her six years as a public high school teacher, she used her summers to travel around the world, and it was her experiences as a volunteer on archaeological digs that inspired her to write historical fiction.
In 2012 Michelle was married in India, inspiring her seventh book, Rebel Queen, which is set in the East. Her hobbies include hiking, traveling, and archaeology. She is also fascinated by archaeogenetics, particularly since her children’s heritages are so mixed. But above all these things, Michelle is passionate about reading, and can often be found with her nose in a good book. A frequent traveler, she currently resides with her husband, son, and daughter in the US.