I was recommended this by a friend, who I will be forever grateful towards, because this is a fantastic book that I otherwise might not have come across. It is set in 16th and 17th Century India whist under the rule of the Mughal Empire. I do not know a great deal about this period of history and so it was interesting to start learning more about this time.
The story starts in the reign of the Emperor Akbar. Mehrunnisa is introduced to the royal harem, where Akbar’s head wife – Empress Ruqayya takes a liking to her as a child. From a young age she is attracted to the Prince Salim, but it is a long time before she can realise her dream – to be empress.
This book is based on actual historical events and looking it up on Wikipedia (which may or may not be the best source material) it seems to be quite accurate as it can be for fiction.
I knew I would enjoy it the moment I started because Sundaresan is a natural storyteller and her words will weave you into the lives of her characters, even from the first page. She is able to gently let out enough story at a time to keep you wanting to read more. You’re not sweating to turn the next page to find out what happens next, but you feel so comfortable reading, that you keep turning them anyway.
At first I did find it a bit difficult to imagine the time period because I am so unfamiliar with the history in this part of the world. At least with British or European history I feel more knowledgeable and have at least seen period dramas on television to give me some sort of visual idea.
I do think Sundaresan could have done more to help the reader visualise the time and setting. I felt Mehrunnisa felt a little too much like a modern woman pushed into a historical setting. However, from what I have read up on a bit, she must have been a fascinating woman who managed to gain a lot of power in a time when women were so discriminated against.
The influence the women had in the royal court is intriguing. I think a lot more will be made of this in the next book as this book touches more on the under currants beneath royal life. Whilst the male heirs constantly fight for the crown, the women manoeuvre behind the scenes, behind their veils to manipulate the men how they want them.
Whatever the criticisms may be I found this book to be so enjoyable and an absolutely engrossing read. Sundaresan walks you through the historical events and the characters feel real. I could imagine the sky and feel the wind, the heat and the dust. I inhaled this book.
I knew nothing about the Mughal Empire before starting this book, and I now know a little bit more then before. Mehrunnisa is a fascinating character and an interesting subject for historical fiction.
The next book is The Feast of Roses which I will at some point be getting my hands on. Unfortunately these books don’t seem to be actually published in the UK – I can’t think why they really should be. You can buy it on Amazon and The Book Depository – now owned by the gluttonous amazon. However, Waterstones does not stock it even on it’s website so I doubt you’ll find it in many shops in the UK.
I highly recommend this book – it is one of my favourite books I’ve read this year.