Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book review: The Shadow Princess

Shadow Princess
Some time back I wrote about the first two books in The Taj Trilogy by Indu Sundaresan: The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses. Shadow Princess is the culmination of the saga. Indu portrays the story of Mughal India after the death of it's beloved begum, Mumtaz Mahal a.k.a Arjumand Banu.

The narration starts with the fourteenth child delivery by Arjumand Banu and her death during the process. She deserts this world leaving behind two daughters, Jahanara and Roshanara along with four sons. On the death of her mother, Jahanara becomes the Padshah begum sahiba of the imperial harem leaving behind Shah Jahan's other two wives in the run for the title. In the time of his beloved wife's death, emperor Shah Jahan depends dearly on his daughter for emotional support and matters of governance. Jahanara looks after her father and kingdom so well that the emperor grows extremely attached to his eldest child and refuses to give her away in marriage to anybody. Jahanara thus looses the chance to marry her love interest, a capable noble in her father's kingdom - Nazabat Khan. Thus sets the mood of longing and desperation in the book.

Jahanara supports her father's will in establishing Dara Shikoh on the throne of Hindustan while her sister Roshanara whose importance is whittled away in Jahanara's brilliance supports another brother Aurangzeb's accession to throne. The haughty pious prince, Aurangzeb longs and fails to attain his sister's Jahanara's affection. Jahanara on failing to receive the natural right to marry, took to immoral and unconventional ways of seeking love. She starts to smuggle in a man into the imperial harem to satisfy her. On discovering that Nazabat too loves her, she meets him secretly under the very nose of the emperor. Aurangzeb's struggle for gaining power is paralleled with his sister's attempts at gaining love. The book entails to describe the construction of Taj Mahal in painful details and there is an information overload.

While this third and last edition in the trilogy holds strong in expressing the author's brilliance in narration, it lacks in holding the readers's interest. Primarily the protagonist of the book, Jahanara Begum is not as impressive and authoritative as the protagonist of two other books, Mehrunnisa. Although the character building has come out substantially, the character in itself lacks any charisma. Secondly, the detail with which the author has described the construction of Taj Mahal is unappealing to a reader lacking architectural background. The story is a drag with nothing new to offer and the important historical incidents in the life of Aurangzeb have received lesser importance than they were actually entitled to. The perfidy and fratricide on Aurangzeb's part is chalked out much too feebly and the grandeur of Mughal rule is all repetitive.

All in all the climax of this trilogy is a disappointment and to be read only for curiosity. I read the book in sections-once starting from the last few chapters, once in the middle section, skipping many a few pages out of sheer boredom!! At last I finished the book and here I am recommending this to only those who have read the first two wonderful books in this trilogy.


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  2. Hi Arpitha, I am Lakshmi. I'v been hearing about your blog from a fren of mine, and I was sent this blog link.
    Albeit not an avid reader, an addicted blogger and an active germ on any of the social networking sites, [I have to dig out time to even read mails:-)], I found some of your blog posts rich, a) in information, b) in narration/content, and most impressing and sorpising to a person like me, c) TIME you vouch for hogging the pile of black encrypted white (sometimes yellowish brown)leaves and also revel on how they tasted/smelt?!
    Keep up the noble work.
    These well-knit (woolen) pieces of yours bring warmth to many who shiver in the confusion/apprehension of choosing the menu towards literature gratification.
    Its evident of your undying passion that you have nurtured perenially, may you be borne with the sweetest of fruits:-)

    1. THe best thing about writing is connecting with readers like you :) Thank you for the kind words Lakshmi .. I am flattered.

  3. Yet to read part 2 and 3. can't wait!!