Sati has the great misfortune of being born a girl in a small village in India in the late 1800’s. Her mother dies giving birth to another daughter and Sati is left to be raised by her father, maid and vicious grandmother. Though their grandmother declares all is lost and pledges to sell Sati to a temple as a prostitute, her father has other plans for his daughter. He teaches his daughter English and enlists the neighbor to help train Sati to become a member of the Durga Dal, or the elite group of women trained to protect the Rani, or Queen. Sati learns many forms of combat and wins a spot at the hand of the queen, where her knowledge of English is greatly prized. Knowing her sister has few options, Sati sends almost all her earnings from the Queensguard back home to help prepare her sister’s dowry. Sati herself, will never be allowed to marry or have children. Set in the backdrop of the British takeover of India, the tone of the book changes quickly when first the son of the Rani dies, followed quickly by the Raja, or King. The British begin the process of taking over her kingdom and the Rani develops the nickname “The Rebel Queen” as the young Indian men enlisted to join the British (the Sepoys) rally to try to win back their country.
Michelle Moran’s tale of fighting women and strong queens, The Rebel Queen, is based in History though the author admits to taking many liberties. One of the parts I enjoyed most about Moran’s writing style is the tendency to use both the actual Indian terms and a brief description so that the reader may begin to understand a culture they may no little to nothing about. The story of Rani Lakshmibai is a powerful tale, especially when so few History books make a case for her. This is partial proof of the old adage that “History is written by the victors.” With Queen Victoria eventually becoming known as the Empress of India, very little room was made for a defeated Indian Queen, though two women in power at the time was astounding. Rani Lakshmibi was also greatly known for the liberties women had in her kingdom. In many regions, women were not to leave their homes except in extreme circumstances or when going to their new home as a wife. Moran also takes great care in explaining the beliefs of her heroine and even explaining the caste system.
Moran goes into great detail to describe individual pieces of clothing, scents, sounds and decorations that at many times throughout the book I found myself closing my eyes and just imagining the scene. Her detailed descriptions of clothing, as well as their culture shock at the clothing of the British, give the reader a sense of what it must all have been like at the time period. It is difficult not to be completely taken in by The Rebel Queen.
The Rebel Queen is now available from Touchstone Books.