Two fascinating women provide their counterpoints in this wonderful Young Adult read
In his mind, I am a usurper of sorts, an unnatural woman who did not die alongside her husband but chose to play a part in the real world, the world of men.
Devika Rangachari’s Queen of Ice has quite possibly one of our favourite characters from fiction this year.
In Didda, Devika creates a woman character I can’t wait to introduce to my daughter once she’s old enough. The Princess of Lohara, and eventual ruler of Kashmira, she is wholly her own person- often stubborn, at times cruel, and relentlessly driven by her own quest for greatness. But she is also clever, an able administrator, and capable of loving deeply if imperfectly. Perhaps, what I liked most about her was just how quick to action she was. There is no dithering and weeping in Didda’s world- she follows her heart to wherever it may take her, without always thinking of the consequences. It is so refreshing to have a smartly etched woman anti-heroine who puts her quest for power over family, motherhood, friendship or any other supposedly ‘feminine’ motive.
She kills. Without scruple. Without compunction.- Valga
And as if one beautifully etched character wasn’t enough, in Valga, Rangachari builds a warm and sensitive portrait of one of the countless bystanders history forgets to mention in its pages. As Didda’s carer, Valga stands by her side through every single decision- even if she often finds herself at odds with her mistress. In some ways their relationship is not dissimilar to that of Hodor and Bran. But imagine a Hodor whose inner life you are made privy to- a Hodor filled with compassion and even an occasional twinge of regret about the actions undertaken by Bran- and you have Valga.
Devika expertly evokes the majesty of Kashmira in her prose, and really knows how to tell a story. She manages to find character moments through the revolving door of conniving villains and sniveling courtiers and treacherous relatives that stand in Didda’s ways, suffusing each of them with a reason for being. Without spoiling too much of this excellent book, I especially enjoyed the delicate balance that was the relationship between Didda and her Prime Minister Phalguna, two master strategists who know when to take charge and when to hold back.
But perhaps both the best (and in some ways the most tragic) part of this book is that it is based on a true story. The novel arose from Devika’s extensive research into Indian history, and it is a little edifying to discover that such a fascinating character as Didda has not received her due at least in part because of the inherent gender bias in the way we record history. A woman who challenged so many social norms by denouncing conventional relationships and creating a matriarchal line of succession is forced into becoming a footnote as we read about long-drawn patriarchal lineages in our textbooks. We hope that Devika has other stories to tell from her research, because we can’t wait to discover more fascinating worlds with her.
Highly recommended- for teenagers, and their ‘cool’ aunts and for everyone in between.
Buy the book here!