Top critical review
Good, but could have been amazing
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 9, 2017
First off, I had to dock a star for a somewhat misleading summary; I went in hoping for women in love and that's not what I got. But the book was...good. And I think that may be the worst part. It stopped at good, when it had the potential for so much more.
I would recommend reading it. The rest of this review is full of spoilers.
The book focuses heavily on romantic love and familial love--and on lust that pretends to be love, but the book does not make that distinction, which is a shame. This book would have skyrocketed if it had made that distinction, and if it had focused on one more: platonic love.
What we get is Kali falling in love with literally the first man she meets because--? Because he's pretty? I don't know. They are utterly lacking in chemistry. What they could have had easily was a platonic love, a near instantaneous friendship, and it would have been magnificent, as Kali and Deven were every bit as secretive because no one would believe a man and woman capable of such a friendship. It would have fit in magnificently without any major change to the plot.
Even better? If Kali had romantically loved her dearest and most beloved person, Jaya, with whom she did have chemistry--when they had the chance. The book is rushed in odd places, and slow in others. It doesn't lag anywhere, but it doesn't focus on anything either, which is a shame. I wanted Kali to constantly long for Jaya, even if only in a sisterly love way. I wanted Kali to linger, listening to secrets at doors, instead of hearing of such things second hand. I wanted Kali not to merely acknowledge her fire, but to rejoice in it. To feel as if her soul was full of fire, full of that precious light behind her eyes that teased me, but instead it is barely more than a footnote. I wanted Kali to rise from her razing and see for the first time the world unclouded by poison or her fire boiling over. I wanted Kali to not be the land-goddess (one of several goddesses whose names seem to be regularly forgotten, while Anu's and even Anu's son are known only by name, which seemed a massive oversight for a book trying to be feminist) I wanted her to be the goddess of fire and passion.
Kali is close to a good, solid character. But her backbone of steel wavers when you want it most to stiffen, and her compassionate heart easily forgets, or so it feels in the book. In making the book fast-paced, or perhaps only shorter, we are deprived of Kali waking up from nightmares of people stoned to death, of the deaths of loved ones.
And since Jaya felt more like the romantic interest than Deven, I want to detract another star for her dying in classic, useless "doomed lesbians" fashion.
As for feminist--I say it tries, and it does make a decent attempt. But in being something of a teaser book, it leaves out the motivations of the bhutas, and their following a man when Kali fights for freedom. I wanted a rise of women, of sister warriors, who are fierce tigresses and mother bears and raging elephants.
For Kali's climactic trial, I wanted the gong to ring--and for Kali to drop her sword and strip her armor and kneel, refusing to fight her sisters. I wanted the prayer she raised to echo. I wanted these women to loathe Terek, to loathe the men holding them leashed, and flock to Kali, to stand with her, to not have Kali poison Terek on their wedding night, but for there to be no wedding night. I wanted them to say, screw the book, screw your agenda, we won't take another day of this.
And as well I very much wanted the positives of polygamy to shine through. It tried, in the chatty, happy ranis who are immediately Kali's friends, but--I wanted more. A hundred women and only three of them friends? Have you met women?
I didn't dislike this book--I was disappointed. I loved that it was very strongly inspired by Hinduism, I loved that the characters were not white (although a small thing: it was odd Kali had the word blond when the poison bleached her hair). I liked the world to some degree, though it is silly to think an entire people would forget the way of things only twenty years past, or that every temple of the sisterhood would rely so heavily on men so as to completely change their ways because the benefactors withdrew support. Actually I hated that. I hated that the Sisterhood was so weak, that every one of them caved, instead of saying, "You will never again be blessed with our brilliance, for we shall support ourselves, and you will have to beg us to take you back."
So. Do I think you should read this? Yeah, it's enjoyable, it's not bad. I just wish it had been better, as it so easily could have been, instead of falling on cliches that cheapened the story, and rushing it along.
I hope to see more from the author though. I think she could write wonderful things. The beginnings of amazing are all here.