Although a heroine in India, Queen Lakshmi of Jhansi is little-known to the rest of the world. Her story of resistance to the English takeover of her kingdom and her eventual death on the battlefield in 1858 is told in Moran’s novel from the viewpoint of Sita, a member of Lakshmi’s elite Dhurga Dal, or female guards.
Sita’s own story enhances the reader’s understanding of life in the India of the mid-19th century. Her childhood with her grandmother, father and sister in a small village, her training and eventual acceptance into the Queen’s band of female warriors, and her growing awareness of politics and the machinations of palace life makes a compelling story in its own right. The heroic tale of the Rani of Jhansi drives the plot onward as the tragic history unfolds.
I could not put this book down! Sita’s voice as narrator is a strong one, and the time and characters fascinating. Moran’s evocative writing transports the reader from small backcountry villages where women live out their lives in purdah to the exotic kingdom of Jhansi whose women freely walk the streets, and finally to the eye of the hurricane as British authority in Jhansi increases. The Rani’s early attempts at diplomacy and negotiation fail, leaving her with no choice but to fight. I have read other books set during the events of 1857-1858, what is known to some as “the Great Mutiny” and to others as “India’s First War of Independence.” This book provides a riveting and addictive glimpse of that era from the viewpoint of the native Indian population. Very highly recommended!