by Indu Sundaresan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Shadow Princess / 978-1-4165-4879-9
My first introduction to the story of the intriguing and mysterious princess Jahanara, was with the engaging and interesting "Jahanara: Princess of Princesses", a fictional Royal Diary installation for young children. I was, in light of this introduction, greatly looking forward to reading "Shadow Princess", but rarely have I seen a novel more in need of an editor's firm hand!
With a meandering and confused narrative, "Shadow Princess" flits rapidly from an omniscient narrator to diving into a character's intimate point of view to leaping forward into another character's point of view, all within the space of a few sentences - indeed, sometimes the point-of-view leaps occur in the *same* sentence. The novels jumps backwards and forwards through time, and the author seems to strongly distrust the reader's ability to pick up cultural and historical details the usual way, i.e. through the narrative - instead, she grinds the story to a halt every couple of pages to skip off to a history lesson. And, if that weren't bad enough, the history lessons are often repeated a few pages later! The whole overall tone is disjointed, confusing, and poorly constructed - which is a shame, because there's a good story underneath that a better editor could have brought out.
Just for example, in the first 50 pages of "Shadow Princess", the narrative goes thus: point of view of Mumtaz Mahal, point of view of Jahanara, point of view of Shah Jahan, switch to narrative omniscience, back to Jahanara, then to Aurangzeb, off to Shah Jahan's first wife, across the country to Jai Singh (so that the author can tell us, flat-out, what's going to happen in 30 pages - if that doesn't dull the suspense, I don't know what will), back into omniscient narrative, then to Commander in Chief Mahabat Khan, back to Aurangzeb again, then to Jahanara, forward in time one day with Nadira, then back fifty four years (and one day) to Ghias Beg for a quick history lesson on Mehrunnisa, then forward again (to the day before Nadira's point of view earlier) to Shah Jahan, then forward a day for Shah Jahan to reflect on the history of Mehrunnisa (again!!), then forward in time to Dara, who is just now catching up in time with Nadira.
For those keeping count at home, that's 17 point of view changes in 50 pages, for an average of one switch every three pages. And that's being liberal on my part - I've left out all the times that the narrative zooms into one of the younger children or one of the palace servants for a sentence or two. Nearly all of the point of view changes are superfluous and unnecessary - given that we're only with Jai Singh for a couple of pages, and given that his part of the narrative could easily unfold as the tomb land is purchased and built, we don't really *need* to grind the narrative to a halt to go check on him every couple of chapters. The constant flash-backs, flash-forwards, and flash-sideways are cumbersome and difficult to track - the scene with Nadira jumping forward in time flat out is not necessary and could have been handled when Dara got the summons, but instead the author jumps into "tomorrow" with Nadira, before then jumping back to "yesterday" to tie up some loose ends with the Shah, before continuing on to "tomorrow" again - the whole thing is convoluted and confusing.
I really did not think it would be possible to turn me off of a novel of Jahanara, but I simply could not wait to put "Shadow Princess" down. The writing is heavy and verbose and put me in mind of an obsessive compulsive who would rather sacrifice flow and rhythm rather than sacrifice one sentence of historical research that was no doubt accumulated for this lengthy novel. And despite the near constant telling of what everyone in the novel is thinking and feeling, I felt the characters to be poorly characterized, two-dimensional, and largely shallow and without depth - probably because the characterization is spread too thin and among too many characters.
NOTE: This review is based on a free Advance Review Copy of this book provided through Amazon Vine.
~ Ana Mardoll
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