My thanks to the author for a review copy of this book.
Padmavati, the legendary queen of Chittor who chose to commit jauhar (self-immolation) rather than fall into enemy hands when their kingdom fell is the focus of this book by Anuja Chandramouli. While in a sense a historical figure, Padmavati or Padmini is also a legend for historical accounts of her are few. Chandramouli’s books traces her story from about the time that she is married to Rawal Rattan Singh of Chittor with whom she falls deeply in love and who reciprocates, to her life at Chittor, which in many senses is far from perfect to the final trial when Chittor is under siege and Rattan Singh is forced to consider the most difficult decision of his life, surrendering to the enemy. Chandramouli’s version of this story was somewhat different to the one I’ve heard but it comes across mostly as more realistic than stuff of myth or legend. Padmavati is near perfect, beautiful beyond description, with a disposition to match, blessed in the love of her family and in her husband but having to contend with others in Chittor, her husband’s first wife among them who have nothing but ill-will towards her. Rattan Singh is torn between his principles and quest for fairness, and the conduct expected of him. Alauddin is ruthless, the consummate villain but one who does operate by his own principles, a hate of traitors (no matter who they may be benefitting) among them.
This was a fairly enjoyable read for me―for it makes Padmavati’s story a little more complex, and a little more realistic than the legend―it isn’t about love and lust and honour alone, but also about hate, jealousy, betrayal, and conspiracy. In fact, Alauddin’s part in the whole tale as it comes across isn’t half as black as the ordinary version―his conquests more related to his ambitions for empire. And Chittor’s fall was not a consequence of Alauddin’s might but circumstances that were beyond Rattan Singh or his people’s control. For me (as compared to the other historical novel by the author I read earlier this month, Prithviraj Chauhan), the characters in this one felt somewhat (though not entirely) more black and white than ones with many shades. Padmavati herself in particular I thought came across as a little too perfect, particularly in her conduct, without the slightest reaction to any hate, any hostility she faces. In comparison, Rattan Singh perhaps feels a little more human. Rattan Singh’s first wife I think was well fleshed out, one who let her feelings get the better of her (saying more would be a spoiler). Like other reviewers have also said, I felt the writing in this one was not of the same quality as some of her other books. Also, if I compare it with Prithviraj Chauhan again, that story felt like it had more substance to it as well, perhaps a result of a stronger historical basis than for Padmavati who is more a subject of legend. Still, it was a quick and interesting read. Three and a half stars.