Gul has spent her life running. She has a star-shaped birthmark on her arm, and in the kingdom of Ambar, girls with such birthmarks have been disappearing for years. Gul’s mark is what caused her parents’ murder at the hand of King Lohar’s ruthless soldiers and forced her into hiding to protect her own life. So when a group of rebel women called the Sisters of the Golden Lotus rescue her, take her in, and train her in warrior magic, Gul wants only one thing: revenge.
Cavas lives in the tenements, and he’s just about ready to sign his life over to the king’s army. His father is terminally ill, and Cavas will do anything to save him. But sparks fly when he meets a mysterious girl—Gul—in the capital’s bazaar, and as the chemistry between them undeniably grows, he becomes entangled in a mission of vengeance—and discovers a magic he never expected to find.
Dangerous circumstances have brought Gul and Cavas together at the king’s domain in Ambar Fort… a world with secrets deadlier than their own.
I was initially pretty disappointed when I got rejected for the ARC, but I guess that ended up being a good thing because I had one less book to feel guilty about for missing the release date. And then I was pretty excited to get to it because all my friends loved it so much and now I know exactly why.
This book is so fast paced that it starts with a bang and doesn’t let up. The plot does have some quieter and somber moments where the characters get to show their softer or vulnerable sides, but otherwise this story is relentless and we as readers are on our toes for most of it, wondering eagerly what’s gonna happen next. The prose is easy to follow, just how I like it and I got through it in just a few hours.
And coming to the desi elements, this world was so steeped in them that I was completely lost and absolutely gleeful about it. The medieval India based kingdoms, their customs and traditions, the gods and goddesses bearing so much similarity to Hindu mythology, the delightfully described food and clothes and setting – it was all utterly perfect. But ultimately what really made me emotional was the abundant use of mostly Hindi language vocabulary – sometimes explained, sometimes not – and I just loved the author for doing that.
Gul and Cavas are such amazing characters to follow. Gul is defined by what happened to her parents and wants revenge, prophecy or not; on the other hand, Cavas is shaped by the prejudices of this world which keep his father ill and himself unable to do anything but survive despite being capable of so much more. They can feel like impulsive teenagers at times, but we also understand where they are coming from and root for them every step of the way. And right from their first meeting, their destinies feel connected and I think the author captured that push and pull between them very effectively. The story is also about them coming to think beyond themselves and concentrate on the big picture, and take actions for the sake of the greater good.
There are many other side characters here and I really enjoyed every one of them. Whether it’s Juhi with her strategic mind and motherly concern, Amira with her sharp tongue, Kali with her soft strength, Xerxes with his secrets, Amar with his mysterious actions in the shadows, Malti with her delightful disposition or ultimately Shayla with her pointed cruelty – every single character leaves a mark on us and I can’t wait to see what happens to each of them further in the story.
In the end, this was an action packed YA fantasy based on a medieval India filled with gods and magic, with a chosen one trope executed very well, an excellent ensemble of characters, and a story that wraps up nicely while leaving enough breadcrumbs that we crave for the sequel. If you are an ownvoices desi reader and haven’t read this yet, I promise you are missing out.