This novel was published under the title “Rebel Queen” in the USA and under the title “The Last Queen of India” in the UK. Click here for the synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads.
This is a fascinating story. I came to this novel with no prior knowledge of the era and now that I’ve finished it I feel as though I have a solid grasp of the tragedy of the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
The Rani of Jhansi was an amazing figure to read about and I enjoyed the outside perspective of her gained from one of her Durga Dal, Sita. The Durga Dal was a group of female guards trained to protect the Rani, the queen of the Raja. The Raja was the ruler of Jhansi, one of the princely states of India, when the British East India company had a strong foothold in their territory. What makes the Rani of Jhansi particularly unique however was that she continued to rule after her husband’s death, subsequently playing a major part in the Indian Rebellion.
By telling the story from Sita’s viewpoint we gain not just an idea of who the Rani was as a person, but we are also given insight into the culture of the Jhansi district. Sita is from a small village in the district, a place where women are kept in Purdah; hidden away from the world outside of their homes. Therefore Sita’s life as a respected member of the Durga Dal is a far cry from her upbringing. Sita is a strong-willed and intelligent woman who really comes into her own once she is freed from the restraints of Purdah.
I love how the author has shown various female perspectives through the inclusion of Sita’s sister and grandmother, not to mention other members of the Durga Dal. Their portrayals are very diverse from each other in order for the author to show how their life experiences have shaped their personalities. For example Sita’s grandmother is a bitter woman who has suffered so much disappointment in her own life that she resents anything that Sita might accomplish for herself. A friend of Sita’s in the Durga Dal, Jhalkari, is a member of the Dalit caste, the lowest social class in India. This caste of society was considered “untouchable” and completely shunned by all other castes of society. Jhalkari’s perspective is therefore very different from the other women in the Durga Dal, although not in the way that you might imagine. She is not bitter at all like Sita’s grandmother, but rather a kind and giving person. I really enjoyed the various female portrayals and how the author chose to entwine them together to create this story.
Although heartbreaking at the end in more ways than one I loved every second of this novel. Being British myself I am horrified by the acts committed during the British occupation of India and I feel a deep regret that such things occurred (as I feel most would, regardless of their nationality). I learnt a lot throughout these pages, but ultimately the feeling I am left with is an immense admiration for the Rani of Jhansi and what she fought for. I absolutely recommended giving this a read.