Author: Roshani Chokshi
Literary siblings often have a way of stealing the spotlight – the Weasley twins, the Baudelaire baby, Aedion Ashryver (well, cousin), Jem Finch LOL JK Scout is way better. In The Star-Touched Queen, Maya’s younger sister Gauri was an unexpected standout, shining with fiery personality and indomitable strength despite appearing in a pretty small fraction of the story. Well, hold on to your hats because SHE HAS HER OWN BOOK NOW.
A Crown of Wishes is technically a companion book to The Star-Touched Queen, though I would recommend reading Star-Touched first so you catch all the subtle threads tying them together. Crown of Wishes takes place soon after the small window of time that Gauri appears as a young woman in Star-Touched. She has established herself as a fearsome fighter, winning the hearts of the people of Bharata and the respect of its soldiers. Too bad her greedy, cold-hearted brother Skanda is the one sitting on the throne.
Following a failed coup, Skanda has Gauri dumped over the border of the enemy nation Ujijain in hopes that they’ll seize the opportunity to slay the princess that has already claimed the lives of many of their men. But Prince Vikram has other ideas – the adopted son of the king, Vikram is struggling to cement himself as Ujijain’s true heir in the face of a council that would rather have a puppet monarch. When a mysterious figure presents him with the opportunity to compete in the magical Tournament of Wishes, it seems like the chance he needs is finally within his grasp. The only problem? He needs a partner to compete.
For her part, Gauri would rather take on an army single-handed than cooperate with Vikram, but when the choice is between competing and death, she grudgingly agrees. They must uncover a path to the danger-laden Otherworld, then survive the competition for the chance to earn a wish from the Lord of Wealth and Treasurers. They don’t know it, but the Tournament will push their minds, bodies, fears and beliefs to the limit before the end, and neither will come out exactly as they went in.
This is a stunning follow-up to The Star-Touched Queen. It has all the sharp wit, lush descriptions and beautiful Indian cultural inspiration as the first, but with a heroine that is entirely fresh. Gauri and Vikram’s banter was one of my favorite things about this book, and their power dichotomy is different from most male/female duos – Gauri prefers action and knows she can kick Vikram’s butt in combat, while the prince prefers to use his words as weapons. There’s a give-and-take as they argue how to best meet each new challenge, with each method proving more useful in turn. Author Roshani Chokshi also includes beauty as a potent force, describing makeup as the armor of the harem wives and making Gauri’s intentional use of her own beauty equal with a dagger or well-turned phrase.
The fantastical Otherworld locations are almost entirely distinct from those in The Star-Touched Queen, and Chokshi’s lush descriptions do not disappoint. From bone groves and dank prisons to desire tents and rooms with walls of songbirds, the Otherworld almost seems more real than “reality.” But the unbelievable settings don’t detract from the heartfelt emotions – you feel Gauri and Vikram’s pain, hope and fear right along with them as the Tournament runs them through a physical and emotional wringer. They both have old fears and regrets casting shadows over their dreams for a future free of the strings their respective kingdoms try to drag them down with. But wishes are tricky things, and by the end of the Tournament they are no longer sure of what they really want.
A Crown of Wishes is beautiful in its own right, and even more so when taken with its companion book. It takes a hard look at how first impressions are often inaccurate, and the danger of judging someone by their reputation or the “mask” they wear. On an individual level, it questions whether there is really a magical cure-all for the characters’ problems. Is a single wish enough, or do some things have to be worked through the hard way? Gauri’s character arc is especially transformative, as she is forced to question everything she believes about herself, her strength and the world around her.
These books are funny, they are beautiful (in writing as well as the jaw-dropping covers), they are immersive, fantastical and yet very real in the emotions conveyed. From family and sibling relationships to fears of the past and hopes for the future, both The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes are well worth the read.