“Show me a dream unrealized. Don’t show me unchangeable paths.”
Phew! Guys, I read this book super fast. Like really, really fast. Is that a good thing, you ask? Normally, I would say, “Hell yeah, it’s great! Couldn’t put it down!” But in this case? Not so much. Considering I skim-read the last 70 pages and really just wanted the book to end, I’d say it is surely not a great thing…Damn.
I recently got this book as a gift and I was excited to read it, but at the same time, I had some reservations going in. The synopsis tells of Princess Mayavati from Bhurata, who was cursed with a “doom and gloom” horoscope when she was born, but who will rise to power in a new world. With the help of some new husband, of course. Yeah, I wasn’t really drawn to the story, based on that blurb. But, I had heard good things and owned the book now, so I figured I’d read it anyway. So, basically, Maya’s entire kingdom hates her, because the stars have declared that she will bring death and destruction to her marriage. Okayyy. Then, her politically motivated father tells her she will be married off anyway, except it is all a ruse so that she can kill herself and save the kingdom. What??? But then! A mysterious ruler from an unknown realm stops her hand before she can chug the poison her oh-so-loving father bestowed upon her. This dude Amar whisks Maya away to Akaran, which is a totally empty kingdom that has a bunch of Otherworldly shit going on, and declares his love and dedication to her about…5 minutes (?) after meeting her. Then, there are some magical threads and pointless doors, and it’s actually quite boring, until a bunch of really random stuff starts happening. Then, the end!
So, my first impression of the book, based on the insta-love sounding synopsis was mostly accurate. I actually really liked the first 80 or so pages, but then it went downhill for me. In those first pages, Maya is introduced and seems like a decent protagonist. She is a little headstrong and naive maybe, but she seemed smart, mature, and strong in the face of her kingdom’s hatred. That didn’t last, though. I also really liked the setting of Bhurata, even if it was not fully explained. It appeared to be an interesting realm with political intrigue, court hierarchies, unique customs, and familial drama. I was looking forward to reading/learning more about this place and Maya’s role there. However, we are hardly in Bhurata at all! Within a day it seems, Amar has arrived to steal Maya and take her to Akaran. So, any potentially fascinating details about the place, people, etc. were completely ignored.
This then became an incredibly frustrating trend throughout the novel, where nothing was freaking explained! We were told of many things happening for a reason or being this way, because of that, but nothing whatsoever was given a solid foundation or background. And I understand that the reader is supposed to be confused, because Maya is confused and unaware, but at this point, Maya just becomes ultra dense. She is not observant or logical, she just blindly listens to Amar, because he is making her all tingly and keeps declaring his love for her. Come on, dude, it’s been 2 days. But, she knows she shouldn’t trust him, because he’s Secretive and Mysterious. All the while, the reader is being knocked over the head with hints and “foreshadowing” about reincarnation, so it is not hard to understand what Maya cannot seem to grasp. Which brings me to one of my main gripes with this book.
Of course, Maya was Amar’s lost love who just happened to die and be reborn in her current form. Of course, she doesn’t remember anything about him, but feels such a connection to him anyway (#soulmatessss). This is a trope that I truly hate. It seems so gimmicky. Oh no, it’s not insta-love, see? They were already in love, you just didn’t get to see any of the development and one of them can’t remember… No! I do not approve. That is just boring. And lazy, to simply have one character in love, the other in lust, and then go poof! they remembered, so automatic kissing and happy ending. Sidenote: this is the very same reason I initially hated the Daughter of Smoke and Bones series. Same situation.
So, as all that yuck is going on, Amar is also trying to remind Maya of her past power (since duh she was an immortal before, too), and there is a really confusing and convoluted plot point about a tapestry that holds all the threads of living things in it and a tree that has memories of Maya’s past. It is Amar’s job, as the ruler of the Otherworld (of course he is), to “tend” to the threads, basically choosing people’s fates. Maya used to do this with him, but she is all weak now, so she is sad and then she does the dumbest thing ever and just completely starts trusting this creepy-ass disembodied voice. Oh, you’re telling me to steal from Amar and release you from your prison? Ok, no problem. So, Maya possibly sleeps with Amar to steal his power (I honestly couldn’t tell you if they do, because it was written so flowery and vague), releases the spirit that she now believes is her old best friend, and stabs her memory tree. Thus, ruining everything like a flippin idiot. Honestly, why would you blindly listen to a demonic voice/image?! Maya is so dumb and naive and lacking any sort of common sense at this point, that I could not handle it. I basically skim-read the rest of the book.
I no longer cared if Maya would return to the Otherworld and fix everything, I no longer cared if she and Amar would be happy together; I thought I would care about the flesh-eating talking horse that I had heard about, but even that disappointed me! The horse, Kamala, was so…corny? Inauthentic? It felt like Chokshi was trying so hard to make the horse seem sinister and have this dark sense of humor, but it just fell really flat for me. Every exchange between Kamala and Maya was like a very strange detour into My Little Pony land. And from there, the two just run around aimlessly for about a hundred pages until they go back to the Otherworld, Maya remembers, and they save the day in a super rushed ending. The book literally ends without any resolution. There is no explanation as to how the once-best-friend-turned-demon Nritti could lure Maya to her in the mirror or take over the whole kingdom of the Otherworld. What powers did the noose have and why was Amar just chill with it being easily stolen from him? How did the weird time-jump work? Why did Amar and Gupta still want to “get rid” of Maya? Why was so much of the book wasted on Maya just wandering around the rooms of the Otherworld or riding around on Kamala? Why was other, immortal Maya such a raging diva, who literally killed herself so her soul would be reincarnated away from Amar…after a minor disagreement? What was the point of all of this!?!
Gah! This book was frustrating. The only saving grace, save for the promising beginning, was the beautiful prose. The writing, while getting a little too obscure and flowery at times, was undeniably pretty. It was sensuous and lush, with rich descriptions and effective metaphors. The emotions were tangible and the visual details were captivating. So yes, the prose was great, but it was dressing up something that, overall, just wasn’t working. A hot mess in a pretty dress.
Cake, anything to add here?