REBEL QUEEN – Michelle Moran
A Perfect 10
Kingdom of Jhansi – Mid-Nineteenth Century
The country of India was, before it became a unified land, a multitude of small kingdoms. When the British East India Company began to make inroads there, Britain also began annexing (i.e. conquering) many, trying to turn them into replicas of home. But one small kingdom, Jhansi, was not an easy win for them, mostly because their queen and her male and female warriors were not going to give up without a fight.
Queen Lakshmi only accepts the right women into her Durga Dal, her elite Royal Guard. One young woman from a tiny village has been trained by her father and neighbor for the explicit purpose of qualifying for this unique opportunity. Sita knows that after the death of her mother and birth of her sister, there is little if any money for a dowry for her. And her father knows this too, which is why he is training her for the Durga Dal. Sita learns how to use many weapons, how to ride a horse, and studies English to make her more marketable as a warrior. When the time comes for the competition, Sita outshines them all. But this new position means Sita must leave her village, with little time off to visit her father and sister. Still, it will mean that she can send money home for a dowry for her sister, and that is her goal.
Sita's arrival in Jhansi is overwhelming for a poor girl from a remote village. The opulence of the Raja Gangadhar's palace, the women she meets whom she would live, fight, and possibly die with, and the overall importance of her position leave Sita speechless. But she must learn immediately whom to believe, and most important, whom to trust. The women eat, sleep, and practice together, but there is more to the job than just guarding the queen. They are expected to know protocol, and be almost a friend to the young, pregnant wife of the Raja.
Almost immediately, Sita sorts through those women she can rely on, and whom to avoid. The woman who is closest to the queen and the raja dislikes the idea of a poor girl stepping into her life and out-besting her in weaponry. Kahini is especially upset because Sita knows English and reads to the queen. Sita learns she must watch her back around Kahini.
REBEL QUEEN is another amazing, informative novel by Michelle Moran. Intricate details about nineteenth century India are meticulously researched. Queen Lakshmi and her entourage are realistically portrayed, and the murky history of her country is clarified in this beautifully written story. Sita tells the story in her own words, which makes this a very personal tale. The caste system, the abject poverty, and the growing need by the queen to learn more about the world and her people, make REBEL QUEEN a Perfect 10 for me. I highly recommend this wonderful novel.