*Serious Face Review*
Author: Roshani Chokshi

In the kingdom of Bharata, every newborn child’s horoscope is read from the heavenly bodies, imparting a determination of fate that can raise fortunes or curse lives. For Maya, it is the latter; her future is said to harbor a marriage of death and destruction.

Despite being a princess of Bharata, the decree of the stars has followed her like a black cloud, making her the outcast of the harem and the scapegoat for every unfortunate circumstance. The only person that truly cares for her is Gauri, her younger half-sister that delights in Maya’s tales of the Night Bazaar, a place rumored to be full of creatures of legend and untold magic.

Maya assumes she will live out her days alone, content to study in the archives and scare away legions of superstitious tutors with her horrific horoscope. But rising tensions between her father’s kingdom and rebel nations bring on the unthinkable – an arranged marriage to quell the war that is threatening to bleed Bharata dry.

On the day Maya is to choose from fifteen prospective suitors with nothing more than their names to go on, Bharata’s fortunes take a turn for the worse. The rebel nations have not come to secure a marriage alliance, but to launch an attack from within the heart of the kingdom. Amidst the chaos, Maya escapes with Amar, the Raja of Akaran, marrying him with the toss of a white garland around his neck.

The only problem? Maya has never heard of Akaran, and Amar was definitely not one of the fifteen presented suitors. They flee the destruction and Maya finds herself in a land she once thought impossible – the Night Bazaar. With a sky split between night and day, the tantalizing, terrifying market is the gateway to her new life in Akaran, and the strange creatures within it are only the beginning of the impossibilities she encounters as Amar’s wife.

It’s hard to describe The Star-Touched Queen without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that this book is a beautiful read, filled with lush language that readers will want to pore over, taking in every exquisite detail. It’s rooted in Indian mythology, a culture not often seen represented in the fantasy genre that is largely dominated by pseudo-European settings.

The plot is engaging but not pulse pounding, and relies heavily on the relationships between characters and Maya’s own introspections to drive things forward. This allows each character to be more fully developed rather than focusing on choreographing elaborate action sequences.

One of my biggest surprises was Maya’s father, even though he is a relatively minor player in the story. We see a historically conservative disregard of women that is to be expected, but this doesn’t define him. There are solid examples of him being an intelligent, wise ruler despite his bias. This kind of multi-faceted approach continues throughout the cast; no one is what they seem, not even Maya.

The Star-Touched Queen is largely defined by its secrets, making the heart of the story best left uncovered by the individual reader. Amar’s role in the world and the true nature of his kingdom all come slowly unraveled as Maya discovers there is a powerful side to herself that she had no idea existed. Amidst glass flowers, a living tapestry, and a hilarious demon horse with a smart mouth, past mistakes will be rectified, painful memories uncovered and new futures forged. The Star-Touched Queen is a beautifully immersive book that will leave you lingering.