The sequel to Roshani Chokshi’s debut novel The Star-Touched Queen remains equally adventurous as the first, transporting the reader to the far-away otherworldly lands of Bharata & Ujijain, Alaka and beyond, this time following Mayavati’s younger sister Gauri on her own journey of self-reflection and self-discovery. Filled with adventure, politics, friendships, sisterhood, romance, illusion, transformation, sacrifices, trials and tribulations, A Crown of Wishes weaves an otherworldly story, carried on the wings of birds with feathers of glittering gold.
In A Crown of Wishes we find Gauri, the legendary warrior princess of Bharata, exiled and imprisoned in Ujijain at her brother Skanda’s command. Scorned by her people for the lies Skanda has spread, Gauri faces execution in Ujijain. But Vikram, the cunning ‘Fox Prince’ of Ujijain, sees her potential and offers Gauri a chance at redemption. Together, they enter the Tournament of Wishes with hopes of winning a wish from The Lord of Treasures that would secure them their greatest desires.
In contrast to Maya’s simple soul, Gauri stands strong and independent, cunningly intelligent though unwise and impatient. Gauri confuses the idea of power with control as simply as she confuses aggression for strength. So often Gauri relies on weapons to fight that she is unable to see the strength in peaceful confrontation. She says, “being a solider was the only way that I could keep safe the people I loved” (13), having developed warfare as her own defense mechanism.
“But sometimes weakness wore the face of strength, and sometimes strength wore the face of weakness.” (335)
The theme of control heavily influences the direction of this second novel. Gauri’s power-hungry brother Skanda directly represents the controlling patriarchy. The theme of male control can be traced throughout book, highlighting some of the ways that men assume a certain ‘power’ over women. Women are characterized as “easily traded and replaced” (56), suggesting an interchangeability of women. Telling someone they are replaceable can be equated to telling them they are valueless, and by removing their sense of worth Skanda removes their sense of self. “To so many men in Bharata, your body wasn’t yours” (82). Removing a persons personal freedoms and preventing someone from making their own life decisions is a very real form of control that has basis in our world. By illuminating the injustices that men force upon women through literature, Chokshi makes a powerful statement about patriarchal control. Gauri’s story also encourages self-control, sharing with readers the value of taking charge of your actions and responsibility for your own decisions. Similarly, Aasha’s character represents a successful break from allowing herself to be controlled to gaining the power to control her own destiny: “it meant we weren’t walking a cut path. We carved it into existence with every step” (177).
Makeup is mentioned much in the novel, often considered as a weapon. For Gauri and the harem mothers (as well as women in the real world) makeup is our great mask, capable of covering the self up, to hide, to protect and defend the self. Gauri herself connects need for her mask of defense to her reality: “blood red lips for the blood I wouldn’t shed and night-dark kohl for the secrecy I had gathered” (14). And though Gauri recognizes the dangerous advantages of wearing a mask (“if the powder got in your eyes, the grit would make you weep and temporarily rob you of sight.” (14)) on her journey she must realize the same painful downfalls of that mask in order to fully understand both sides of it.
“This is how we protect ourselves, beti. Whatever insults or hurts are thrown at our face, these are our barriers.” (13)
Gauri says, “fighting was the last connection I had to Maya” (306). “The necklace was a reminder to live for myself the way Maya had. But it was also a reminder of loss. Every time I looked at the pendent, I remembered not to place faith in things I couldn’t control.” (16). “I wouldn’t place my life at the mercy of magic (34)”.
Gauri’s journey challenges her, forcing her to reassess her ability to trust others, to believe (in magic), and allow herself to give up control. She shifts from beginning un-trusting at the start to a believer in magic and love. Vikram helps Gauri to understand her weaknesses and challenges her to change for the better. He tells her, “we could use magic. But you would rather close your eyes to all that” (44), comparing light to understanding and knowledge while Gauri’s closed, unseeing eyes are symbolically blinded by hate. Vikram makes Gauri open her eyes and see the possibilities that come with faith, always reminding us that “magic is a test of faith” (104).
At the threshold of strength and bravery stood hope.” (303)
Gauri also must learn to love. “I wouldnt let myself care. I’d learned that lesson young.” (16). Chokshi applies the language of flowers to impart meaning, using roses as an analogy for love. In chapter two we learn of Gauri’s heartbreak: how she “used to grow roses” (19) in her room as a way of collecting her memories and victories; of the betrayal that destroyed Gauri’s hopes (“burning roses”); and how she ultimately “turned my back on the roses”, leaving Bharata and those she loved.
“Showing strength wasn’t always about physical valor or even cunning. True strength sometimes demanded unstitching everything you knew.” (261)
Along their path to Alaka, Gauri matures her strong, impatient aggression into calculated self control and transforms her tendency to fight into a patient understanding of real power. She faces temptation, realizing that desire is “all demon in its soul. So gilded in its form” (63) that “desire is a poisonous thing” (146). She also must learn to discern illusion from reality in order to pass through the Grotto and the Crossroads. But the journey to the tournament was only half of the battle.
“Our enemies stare at us from the mirror. The quest for power and treasure is a solitary one. Who else is the true enemy in such a quest but ourselves?” (140)
Gauri and Vikram must be challeneged by faceing their fears in order to grow. Both take heroes journeys in order to grow within themselves in order to be the ruler their kingdoms need. In order to do this they must gain what they lack. Serendipitously, each posesses what the other needs so that they can help each other in their search for strength. Gauri needs strength of heart and mind, and the ability to think before acting. She must learn that power is not synonymous with control. In contrast, Vikram needs to learn physical strength and must hone hs ability to act on his thoughts. While Gauri admits that “magic had forced me outside myself” (168), Vikram conversely understands that “Alaka had forced him to look in. Not out” (300).
“His fears were his own … He’d spun them out from himself. He’d forged them from every hurt and every fury. Fear was a reminder that even the insubstantial could kill. But insubstantial meant it had no shape. It couldnt be conquered or tamed or avoided. Only moved through, with force and will.” (257)
They must come face to face with their fears to understand their desires and earn their wish: “What is more frightening than our deepest darkest selves?” (73).
“The eternal is not solely a fight through desire. It is a fight through fear.” (234)
At the Tournament of Wishes, they must face two obstacles and make on sacrifice. Ultimately, both sacrifice that which was hindering them -Vikram loses the pain of him past/memories which allows him to move forward/forgive self. Gauri loses her dominant hand (replaced by glass which refuses to weild a weapon) parallel to her lost “sense of control” (307) forcing Gauri to use her wit as a weapon, allowing her to develop her warfare techniques and making her a better, wiser fighter. “Strength is not…” “Its not about fighting. It’s about seeing, (81)”
“Past and present. Alaka had cut my life in half. When I looked forward, the hand that had been my horror became my hope: transparency.” (333)
Maya’s lessons were not Gauri’s lessons; while Maya needed to learn patient decision making, Gauri needed to learn to love. The glass hand draws a parallel between the control that Gauri had to sacrifice in order to understand true power while the release of Vikrams guilt directly parallels the pain he needed to let go in order to move forward into forgiveness. A Crown of Wishes tells a classic tale of opposites attracting lovers who have what the other lacks. Guari and Vikram represent and ideal relationship of opposites, demonstrating how two very different people can complete each other and help each other to grow.
“Sometimes the greatest power comes not from that which we do, but that which we do not.” (308)
Light can be read as a reference to understanding throughout the novel. The unknown can be seen as a “blocking out the light” (28) whereas when they discover things about the other they move into the light. When Gauri gains self understanding “I felt that wish like a line of light” (79). When Gauri shows her true colors to Vikram and again when she reveals her secrets she appears to him as “made of light” (53). “Those secrets had coaxed a shadowed part of us to step into the light” (123).
“How many times have answers been so simple and yet someone is determined to take the path of thorns instead of roses?” (105)
Mayas journey wove a tapestry; Gauri’s tells a story. “A story is control” (333); A story “was the key to immortality” (267). (“We are all only standing on the shoulders of giants”).
“The key to immortality is in creating a story that will outlive you (145)”.
As beautifully written as the first novel, A Crown Of Wishes keeps readers enchanted by mystery, magic, lore and love from beginning to end. Bathed in the imagery of golden honey palaces and spoken in riddles and symbols, A Crown Of Wishes will leave readers with “hungry hearts” and open minds.
Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. Her short story, “The Star Maiden,” was long listed for the British Fantasy Science Award.
Find out more about The Star-Touched Queen and other works by Roshani Chokshi at http://www.roshanichokshi.com/.