For lovers of historical fiction, nothing is better than a book that has you immersed in the storyline and engages all of your five senses, so that when you look up from reading it takes you a couple of seconds to re-orient to your current surroundings. Shadow Princess by Indu Sundaresan was just that book for me. When Shadow Princess opens we are transported to 17th century India as the Mumtaz Muhal, the much beloved wife of the Emperor, is about to give birth to her 14th child. Also, in the room with her are her two teen-aged daughters, Jahanara(17) and Roshanara (14). As the birth process continues, it appears Mumtaz Muhal may not survive, and she reaches out for Jahanara, neglecting Roshanara, who also rushes to her mother's side. But, despite the best of care available, Mumtaz Muhal dies, leaving behind four sons, two older daughters, a newborn girl child, and an inconsolable husband. But when the Emperor is finally convinced to resume his morning appearances before the royalty, it obvious that he is in a very fragile state; for a show of unity, Jahanara thrusts her four brothers out into the balcony to stand by their father. At this moment, all four brothers, despite their young age, feel the surge of power of being Emperor and this becomes each of their goals. Roshanara, once again feeling left out, and in her bitterness wonders how to control her destiny in this male-dominated world.
While this is the third book in the Sundaresan's trilogy on the Mughal Empire, it is not necessary to read the prior books to enjoy this storyline. Sundaresan's passion and research for this period of Indian history comes through in her exquisite writing and the decoding of the culture. This a tale of the lush life of the royalty and those favored by them. Even for the reader who knows the outcome of the power struggle, Sunderesan weaves an interesting path of getting to this point, focusing the story on Jahanara and Roshanara and the roles of women in shaping Indian history. What most of us know of this era is the building of the Taj Mahal as a tribute of a man's love for wife, Sundaresan took a chance and made the Taj Mahal a character in the book and it is only fitting as the influence of women have often been overlooked in the telling of this period; however, this oversight is corrected by this trilogy.
I recommend this book to not only readers of historical fiction, but also to readers who enjoy reading about sibling rivalry, unrequited love, uncontrolled ambition and adventure.
This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
Reviewed by Beverly