ARC Review: Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi

Title: Star-Touched Stories
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: Star-Touched Queen, #2.5
Pages: 304
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: August 7th 2018
*I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway which does not influence my review*

      “Death and Night
      He was Lord of Death, cursed never to love. She was Night incarnate, destined to stay alone. After a chance meeting, they wonder if, perhaps, they could be meant for more. But danger crouches in their paths, and the choices they make will set them on a journey that will span lifetimes.
      Poison and Gold
      Now that her wish for a choice has come true, Aasha struggles to control her powers. But when an opportunity to help Queen Gauri and King Vikram’s new reign presents itself, she is thrown into the path of the fearsome yet enchanting Spy Mistress. To help her friends, Aasha will have to battle her insecurities and perhaps, along the way, find love.
      Rose and Sword
      There is a tale whispered in the dark of the Empire of Bharat-Jain. A tale of a bride who loses her bridegroom on the eve of her wedding. But is it a tale or a truth?”

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Roshani Chokshi’s delicious prose and spellbinding storytelling once again shines in her collection Star-Touched Stories. All three short stories in this collection take place in the same world as The Star-Touched Queen duology. While many novellas or short story collections feel unnecessary, reading Chokshi’s selected tales felt like a real treat. We get the backstory to a The Star-Touched Queen in Death and Night, a look at what happens to the vishakanya Aasha from A Crown of Wishes in Poison and Gold, and a short story featuring Gauri and Vikram in Rose and Sword. These stories reminded me just how much I enjoy Chokshi’s writing and renewed my love for her duology.

The first short story in this collection, Death and Night, is lush and romantic. If you ever wanted to know more about Maya’s previous life as the goddess of Night and how she first met the Lord of Death, this is the story for you. The Lord of Death seeks a bride, but a curse spells doom if he falls in love. Night is an enigma to most who meet her. Her existence a lonely one. Though she ushers in night, she does not have the power to create and shape fate with her own hands. Their meeting does not go smoothly as Night has always dreamed of a union based on love and the Dharma Raja is determined to marry without it. The Lord of Death is both amusingly and endearingly clumsy when it comes to trying to court Night. I loved Night’s sharp tongue and that she isn’t easily moved by the Dharma Raja. This was my favorite novella of the three because of how vivid the world felt and how easily I was able to fall back into The Star-Touched Queen universe.

Aasha was such a curious character in A Crown of Wishes. When I was still hoping for another book in this series, I was hoping to get Aasha’s story. I was delighted to discover that Poison and Gold is about Aasha and her journey discovering her place in a new world. As a vishankanya, Aasha is able to kill with a single touch, but she has taken on another role at Gauri and Vikram’s side. But as loyal as her friends may be to her and she to them, there is unrest in both kingdoms as they are set to unite with their two leaders’ marriage. Aasha must earn her place by their side and is sent to the current Spy Mistress for training. Aasha has been struggling to find where she fits in this world of mortals. Their manners can sometimes be unpredictable and Aasha continues to marvel at how easily they lie. Zahril, the current Spy Mistress, isn’t exactly what Aasha expects. She isn’t friendly, but curt and sometimes merciless. Though most would be unsettled by Zahril, Aasha finds her lack of pretense refreshing. Aasha finally finds a place where she can not only be herself, but where her key to success relies on it. When Aasha begins to develop feelings for Zahril, her secret identity as a vishankanya threatens to unravel their new bond. I loved that both of these characters, who have very different reasons for being closed off, get a chance to be vulnerable with the other. While the first story is about love, this one is about the potential for love and how Aasha and Zahril take those first steps to being open to the possibility of love.

The final story in this collection is Rose and Sword. We get a glance at both the past and future of Gauri and Vikram’s relationship. This one was a personal delight as these two characters were my favorite in the The Star-Touched Queen duology. This story is a little darker than the previous two as a character must venture into the underworld and save a loved one from death. This felt like a bittersweet tale for those who always imagined a happily-ever-after for the two leads of A Crown of Wishes. There’s an underlining bitter honesty to this tale where Gauri must confront the fact that her relationship with Vikram will not always be perfect. They are far too different to always get along and too used to getting their own way. She eventually has to choose whether the time she and Vikram have together is worth all the pain that will come when she loses him. I became unexpectedly emotional while reading this one. It’s amazing what Chokshi can still make me feel for characters I met over a year ago.

Star-Touched Stories is just as enchanting as The Star-Touched Queen duology. Chokshi made me fall in love with her writing each time I picked up this collection. If you are a fan of the original duology, this is an excellent short-story collection that will leave you both satisfied and wanting even more tales from this captivating world.

4/5

★★★★

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A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi

Title: A Crown of Wishes
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Star-Touched Queen, #2
Pages: 369
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: March 28th 2017

      “She is the princess of Bharata—captured by her kingdom’s enemies, a prisoner of war. Now that she faces a future of exile and scorn, Gauri has nothing left to lose. But should she trust Vikram, the notoriously cunning prince of a neighboring land? He promises her freedom in exchange for her battle prowess. Together they can team up and win the Tournament of Wishes, a competition held in a mythical city where the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor. It seems like a foolproof plan—until Gauri and Vikram arrive at the tournament and find that danger takes on new shapes: poisonous courtesans, mischievous story birds, a feast of fears, and twisted fairy revels. New trials will test their devotion, strength, and wits. But what Gauri and Vikram will soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.”

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“Light flared from creases of rock. I squinted against the brightness until we emerged from the cavern and into a valley that sprawled vast as a kingdom. My heart stopped. Day and night tore the sky in two, each half grabbing greedy fistfuls of clouds from the other. Stars glistened above.

Roshani Chokshi’s A Crown of Wishes is a dazzling display of masterful storytelling with three-dimensional characters and a setting that will leave you breathless. Chokshi’s writing shined bright in her debut A Star-Touched Queen and continues to do so in this sequel. Though A Crown of Wishes can be read as a standalone, reading the first book will help give you a foundation for this world and the character of Gauri. At the beginning of the novel we meet two vastly different people who are brought together for the mysterious and magical Tournament of Wishes. If they have any hope of surviving and finding a way to take control of their own fates, they must learn to work together. Vikram and Gauri’s journey is one heart-stopping trial after another and with a capricious Otherworld lord in charge of the tournament, winning the game may not be as straightforward as they thought.

I was really intrigued by the small glimpse we got of Gauri as Maya’s younger sister in A Star-Touched Queen and was ecstatic to hear that this novel was going to follow her story. Gauri, known as the Jewel of Bharata, is many things. Princess. Warrior. Monster. Gauri’s spent her life living for the people of Bharata, fighting and sacrificing for them. Her brother Skanda’s cruelty has forced her to compromise her own morals and guilt is a hard thing to outrun. When she meets Vikram, she is at her lowest point. Her plan to overthrow her brother has been thwarted, someone she believed she could count on betrayed her, and it is only a matter of time before her best friend is executed. At first she intends to use Vikram and his invite as his partner for the Tournament of Wishes as an excuse to escape her imprisonment in Ujijain, but she finds a worthy ally and friend in Vikram. Gauri has always had to be strong, she’s learned to hide any weakness and shut down any feelings that may interfere with her goals. Being vulnerable does not come easy for her, but she learns risking her heart may be worth it in the end.

Gauri and Vikram are two sides of the same coin. Where Gauri’s strength lies in her ability to wield a weapon, Vikram wields a different kind of weapon: words. Appropriately called the “Fox Prince”, Vikram is both perceptive and cunning. His intelligence is his greatest asset, though his natural charm goes a long way. But Vikram has carried a secret on his shoulders for most of his life, a secret that threatens his entire future as the next ruler of Ujijain. Though adopted, the Emperor of Ujijain has always regarded Vikram as his true son and intends for him to succeed him, but the Council of Ujijain, also aware of Vikram’s illegitimacy, is not so convinced of his competence. Destined to rule in name alone, Vikram jumps at the chance to change his fate. Instead of ordering the execution of an enemy princess, he offers her the chance to change her own future and in so doing, alters both their lives forever. Despite his better judgment, Vikram finds himself drawn to Gauri, not just to the girl with murder in her eyes, but the one who has been carrying the responsibility of her people upon her shoulders for years.

From the lush setting of the Otherworld to an enchanting but deadly population of mythical creatures, Roshani Chokshi beguiles readers with her world-building from start to finish. A Crown of Wishes will leave you with a heart full as you follow the rewarding journey of two young souls desperate for a chance to take control of their lives.

5/5

★★★★★

The Friday 56: The Star-Touched Queen

The Friday 56The Friday 56 is a weekly blog meme hosted by Freda’s Voice. Join us every Friday and share an excerpt from a book you’ve been reading.

Rules:

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader.
*Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grab you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post here in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It’s that simple.

**Be sure to leave a link to your Friday 56 post in the comments!**

“After that, time moved far too quickly. All too soon, I was crossing from the grounds to the Raja’s welcoming hall. Any time I wanted to wait, to pause, to touch anything, the guards pulled me forward. Even the sun had renounced me, disappearing behind the clouds and withholding its warmth. A numb furor sucking the air.”

This week I’m featuring Roshani Chokshi’s The Star-Touched Queen. If you appreciate beautiful writing and exploring different cultures’ folklore, then this is a book you’re going to want to pick up. You can read my full review here. Cover is linked to Goodreads.

Goodreads Synopsis:

      “Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
      But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

Title: The Star-Touched Queen
Author: Roshani Chokshi
Series: The Star-Touched Queen, #1
Pages: 342
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Release Date: April 26th 2016 

      “Maya is cursed. With a horoscope that promises a marriage of death and destruction, she has earned only the scorn and fear of her father’s kingdom. Content to follow more scholarly pursuits, her whole world is torn apart when her father, the Raja, arranges a wedding of political convenience to quell outside rebellions. Soon Maya becomes the queen of Akaran and wife of Amar. Neither roles are what she expected: As Akaran’s queen, she finds her voice and power. As Amar’s wife, she finds something else entirely: Compassion. Protection. Desire…
      But Akaran has its own secrets—thousands of locked doors, gardens of glass, and a tree that bears memories instead of fruit. Soon, Maya suspects her life is in danger. Yet who, besides her husband, can she trust? With the fate of the human and Otherworldly realms hanging in the balance, Maya must unravel an ancient mystery that spans reincarnated lives to save those she loves the most…including herself.

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“Suddenly the small diyas that had lit my room extinguished all at once. Even the light from the moon seemed to have swiftly stuttered off into a pitch-black veil, plunging the room into impenetrable black. I crawled blindly along the floor, when a scratching sound stopped me.”

Roshani Chokshi’s debut novel, The Star-Touched Queen, is full of gorgeous and breath-taking imagery, but fell short when it came to having a clear, structured plot. Maya has always been an outcast, defined by a doomed horoscope since birth. Most regard her with superstition and distrust, viewing her as a walking omen. For Maya, this works in her favor, beside her younger half-sister, Gauri, there is no one in the whole of Bharata that she’d like to spend time with. But inside Maya wants more. Tired of being defined by so-called fate, she plunges head first into the strange world of Akaran, where she is promised the power to define her own future. But her own ambition and need to prove herself threaten to become her downfall.

While I really liked Maya’s character arc, it became a guessing game for a large portion of the novel, as I tried to figure out what its main conflict was. Bharata was on the brink of war when Maya left for Akaran and her disappearance becomes a catalyst, but as time plays tricks in this mysterious kingdom, we as readers are left in the dark, waiting for something significant to happen with the overall plot of the story. It isn’t until we are nearing the end of the novel that we learn of Bharata’s fate. While not a long novel, it did feel like I had to wait an awfully long time for the story to actually take off. I also had a hard time feeling invested in Amar’s character. Though Maya is spellbound by him and their relationship is meant to feel like destiny, there are certain elements at play that kept me from truly understanding his character and looking back, I still don’t feel like I got to know him as much as I did Maya. If more time had been devoted to his own character development, I think I would have liked reading about the evolution of their relationship more.

The kingdom of Akaran itself is a rich and enchanting setting. There are mysteries behind every door, entities lurking about that aren’t quite what they seem, and magic that is at once awe-inspiring as well as frightening. The Star-Touched Queen plays with the idea of fate versus free-will: are our choices ours or have they already been determined? Chokshi’s writing is otherworldly and at times I had to pause just so I could admire the way she uses language to paint such a lovely and vivid picture of this world. There’s such potential in her writing, I’m fairly confident the next book will be an improvement upon this one. There’s a specific minor character in this novel that I felt more drawn to than the protagonist. Her story seemed really interesting and compelling, despite knowing very little of her journey. If you’ve read the synopsis to the follow-up novel, A Crown of Wishes, you’ll know who I’m referring to. I wasn’t sure about this novel getting a sequel, but knowing who it will be focused on makes me pretty excited about it.

Rating: 3/5

★★★