In the vein of Madeline Miller’s Circe comes a bold and sweeping debut that reimagines the life of Kaikeyi, the vilified queen of the Indian epic the Ramayana.
“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”
So begins Kaikeyi’s story, that of a young woman determined to create her own destiny in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come. But as she transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most-favored queen, Kaikeyi’s will clashes with the path that has been chosen for her family. And she must decide if her resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak.
Title : Kaikeyi
Author : Vaishnavi Patel
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : historical retelling
Publisher : Redhook
Release Date : April 26, 2022
Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★
Hollis’ 4 star review
So, I am prefacing this review by saying I know nothing of the epic that inspired this book. I didn’t even know the name Kaikeyi. Had I heard it, I wouldn’t even know to guess what it would be about. But seeing it compared to Circe, or at least likened to this style of female-focused retelling, I had to snatch it up.
Curiously, I read the wikipedia summary after finishing this book and wow. I mean, I don’t know if it’s accurate (again, prefacing, I am Jon Snow and know nothing), but what a different spin on things. And actually it made me appreciate this story even more.
It occurred to me [..] that maybe the gods had marked me for my mother’s sins. Sons could not be held responsible for maternal sins, but daughter’s? [..] Nothing protected me.
I truly don’t even know where to begin, really. This isn’t a short book and nor is it one that you can blast through; this took me hours to read. Maybe I savoured it, maybe I just didn’t rush, but either way, it took time.
The story spans decades, from Kaikeyi’s birth until well into middle age (ish), when her son is almost full grown. We see her grow up amongst many brothers, lose her mother, and try to find a place where she belongs. Then, once married off, she is even more at loose ends having lost the connections and stability she had at home. She struggles for a time to be a wife — one of three — but is lucky enough to be married to a good man who finds more value in her than just someone to give him sons; though she eventually does. And it’s after the birth of her child, and others, that things begin to change again.
“Kaikeyi, remember that you did the right thing. You are not wicked.“
“Then why do I feel wicked?“
“Because those who are good question themselves. Because those who are good alway wonder if there was a better way, a way that could have helped more and hurt less. That feeling is why you are good.”
Please note, I made a very oversimplified summary of things and omitted a lot because spoilers. There is so much more to this than the above. There are gods, and demons, magical connections, unexpected friendships, the fight to empower other women in a society that only values them to a certain extent, and more.
I was sad this ended, I could have definitely read more, and I do wish some plot points had been made clearer. But maybe that’s just because I’m unfamiliar with the source material. I don’t know. Overall, I thought this was very strong, very interesting, and would absolutely recommend. I will be very interested in Patel’s next release (can you believe this is a debut!?), whether related or not, and will definitely be picking it up.
** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **