Writing historical fictions about characters from Indian history is never an easy feat. It is like treading on thin ice. While the liberty to creatively bridge the gap between the known and the unknown rests with the author, chances are that they are bound to offend someone with their interpretation of these historical occurrences. Moupia Basu’s The Queen’s Last Salute is one such novel that takes you through the inner workings of the Bundlekhand region of India during the nineteenth century. One of the most interesting dynamics at play in this book is how it highlights the power equations between the Indians, Mughals and Britishers during that time.
While the title suggests that it focuses on the life and times of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, it actually tells us the story of some individuals who were monumental to her time on the throne. For the same reason, I was a little disappointed because I had been hoping to read a lot more about the Queen of Jhansi than we actually get to read. Nevertheless, the author has managed to neatly tie all of the characters’ stories together to form one fast paced, intriguing novel.
Chandraki, who is Rani Lakshmibai’s companion, comes across as the protagonist of the novel. We follow her journey into enemy territory as she sets out to the kingdom of Orchha to look for a loved one. I found her to be an unreliable main character as her actions and thoughts would keep oscillating between two extremes. Even her dalliance with Jaywant lost steam soon after it began. Towards the end of this book, another character steps into the role of her love interest – that felt really unnecessary and lacked conviction.
As far as historical fictions go, what I did appreciate about this book is the simple language it has been written in, which makes it easy to get swept up in this world that Moupia Basu describes. There’s no use of needless descriptions and flowery words. The manner of storytelling was very captivating. The chapters are short, which is something I like. In the beginning, I kept wondering why we are reading so much about Riyaz Khan, Chandraki and the Queen of Orchha, but it all makes sense post-climax. The turning point in the novel is something I had suspected, but that didn’t deter me from enjoying reading the book.
Amidst all the dramatics and political clashes, you get a glimpse of a society that has still not come to terms with the fact that women can wield swords and ride horses. So their treatment of such deviance from norms helped acquaint us with the regressive mindsets. On the whole, it was worth reading cause it had this quality of being unputdownable, but looking at it critically, there were just some aspects of the novel that could have been worked on, like certain character developments and plot points.
★ ★ ★
Thank you Juggernaut India for sending me a copy of this book in exchange of an honest review.