• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

Vaishnavi Patel's debut is a captivating retelling of the Indian epic Ramayana, with immersive details and an irresistible feminist main character fighting for a voice and for power in a man's world.

I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.

In Vaishnavi Patel's debut novel, Kaikeyi, the author reimagines the life of a fabled queen from the Indian epic Ramayana.

The retelling swirls with family drama, intrigue, bravery--all centered around a young woman determined to make her mark in a world run by men.

Kaikeyi is one of eight children and the only daughter of a king whose lands are ruled by the gods' powerful and ruthless punishment. But in this feminist story, she fights for autonomy, for a voice, for strength, for knowledge--and she is determined to secure these for other women as well.

The people of Bharat have often blamed my father for my sins, as if a woman cannot own her actions.

In an era when noblewomen are expected to submit to arranged marriages, endless needlework, and polite silences and averted eyes, Kaikeyi is an uncontainable force. She is smart, eager, passionate, and determined--and an irresistible main protagonist.

Kaikeyi turns to ancient texts for guidance, discovers magical abilities, and begins to understand that the gods' favor--endlessly important to each person's productivity, health, and blessings--will never be with her. She must forge her own path and find her own inner strength.

I often wondered, as our horses flew across the fields, as their hooves kicked up dust from sun-warmed earth and their breath dissipated into the cooling air, if they remembered where they came from. If they longed for more, for the vast expanse of the skies. Perhaps we were kin, they and I, yearning for something unnameable, a place where we could stretch our wings and belong.

Kaikeyi endlessly reinvents herself--as a warrior, a queen, an advisor, and a voice for powerless women--asserting her might and her wisdom even as an evil curse and unimaginable challenges threaten to undo everything she has built and all she has become.

Patel's immersive detail of Indian fabrics, landscapes, and sights and sounds kept me enthralled. I found some of the final portion of the book's unraveling of who could be trusted, what would come to pass, and what the real story was to read somewhat slowly compared to the energetic pacing of the rest of the book. But the epilogue was gorgeous and a fitting bookend to the story.

I received a prepublication digital edition of this book (published April 26) courtesy of Redhook and NetGalley.

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If you enjoy retellings, you might also like some of the books on the Greedy Reading List Six Magical Fairy Tales Grown-Ups Will Love.