Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Review: Shadow Princess

Shadow Princess
Indu Sundaresan 
352 pages, $25, 

In Shadow Princess, Indu Sundaresan picks up where she left off in The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, returning to seventeenth-century India a few years after Mehrunnisa's death, as two royal princesses struggle for power.The daughters of the emperor, Jahangir and Roshanara, conspire and scheme against one another in an attempt to gain power over their father's harem. As royal princesses, they are confined in the imperial harem and not allowed to marry.

However, this does not stop them from having illicit affairs or plotting who will be the next heir to the throne.These royal sisters are in competition for everything: control over the harem, their father's affection, and the future of their country. Unfortunately, only one of them can succeed. And despite their best efforts to affect the future, their schemes are eclipsed, both during their lives and in posterity, as they live in the shadow of the greatest monument in Indian history, the Taj Mahal.With a flair and enthusiasm for history and culture, Sundaresan creates a story full of rich details that brings the reader deep into the world of the lives of Indian women and their struggles for power and the profound history of the Taj Mahal, one of the most celebrated works of architecture in the world.


The Taj Mahal, India's emblematic monument of subcontinental grace and design, is at the heart of Shadow Princess, the latest novel from Seattle author Indu Sundaresan. Following on the recognition of her previous historical novels The Twentieth Wife and Feast of Roses, Shadow Princess is the third in a series of linked sagas set at the height of the Mughal Empire, the Persian-tinged Muslim dynasty that ruled Hindu North India for 300 years before its fall in 1858 to the nabobs and viceroys of Anglo-India.

Into her novel's darker elements of fratricide, sibling rivalry and intrigue, Sundaresan works in the leitmotif of the Taj Mahal and its symbolism of purity. Though the Taj Mahal was built in memory of the eponymous empress Mumtaz Mahal, her daughter Jahanara is the center of the unfolding story. Still mourning her mother's death, the 17-year-old princess, who is soon to become the most powerful woman in the Empire, must console her grief-stricken father and save his reign from collapsing due to strife and chaos. She not only assumes much of her father's power, issuing royal edicts and running her own intelligence network, but she also takes over her mother's role as chief consort in all but nocturnal duties, out of filial devotion forgoing a life and love of her own.

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