Title: Shadow Princess
Author: Indu Sundaresan
Release Date: March 23, 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Indu Sundaresan’s first two novels featured Mehrunnisa, the twentieth wife of Jahangir, the leader of the Mughal Empire. In Shadow Princess, Sundaresan returns to seventeenth century India. Emperor Shah Jahan, son of Jahangir, is on the throne. When his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal dies, Shah Jahan’s grief cripples him, and he becomes consumed with building a glorious tomb for her. His oldest daughter, Jahanara, takes her mother’s place and his sons begin scheming to capture the power behind the throne.
I have read everything Indu Sundaresan has published. From The Twentieth Wife, her beautifully written debut novel about Mughal India, to In the Convent of Little Flowers, her moving and insightful short story collection, every single piece of fiction she has published is simply incredible. Despite knowing this, I approached Shadow Princess with some hesitation – I absolutely loved the first two books in the series, The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses, so my expectations were sky high.
It’s saying something, then, that Shadow Princess blew my expectations out of the water. This book was simply amazing. Sundaresan shows her incredible skill at writing characters in this novel. The main character in the first two books, and the person with whom the reader’s sympathies lie, is Mehrunnisa, also known as Empress Nur Jahan. However, in Shadow Princess, the main characters are Mehrunnisa’s opponents, the people that the readers’ minds were set against in the first two novels. There is a generational gap between Mehrunnisa and Jahanara, the main character of Shadow Princess, but Mehrunnisa is still a very important character in the book, more for her legacy than anything else.
As a result of this turnaround, it’s easy to become concerned that this book might not be as magical as the previous two, that the characters might not be as sympathetic. And here is where Sundaresan displays her genius – she gives the reader the ability to fully identify with these characters, while not losing their sympathy for Mehrunnisa. It’s an incredibly delicate balance, yet it’s accomplished deftly and amazingly well.
It’s not necessary to read the first two books in the series before reading Shadow Princess; Sundaresan does an excellent job at delivering the necessary information in order to establish the background of the story. However, I still would recommend reading The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses because they are such excellent, rich and textured books.
The history in Shadow Princess is also enthralling. It’s about the building of the Taj Mahal, at least in part, which adds a certain mystique to the novel. Sundaresan handles very complicated and varied history with a beautiful simplicity. The book never becomes bogged down in details, yet she provides a vivid look at an amazing period in Indian history.
Shadow Princess is an incredible novel that I will recommend to everyone. Indu Sundaresan is a wonderful author; I can’t sing her praises highly enough. I will read anything and everything she writes, and I hope more people will pick up her novels – you won’t be disappointed!