The plot is set in the court of Emperor Shah Jahan, the mughal emperor of Imperial India and the story begins with the death of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Following this incident we have the eldest daughter Jahanara talking over the duties of the Imperial Zenana and tending to all her fathers needs and being the perfect First Woman of the court at the tender age of 17. In due course we see how her brothers as they grow up start to dream of wearing the crown one day and one of them is set on it from the very start. Jahanara becomes completely involved in the activities of court and laden with duties somehow do not know how or when she will have a family of her own, and she is in for a shock when she broaches the subject with her father. Being a woman, falling in love, bearing a child, all she does with the power of being the supreme woman in the Imperial Zenana, but still marriage is not allowed for her on the pretext that her father, the Emperor needs her too much give her away in marriage.
The running of an empire in the Mughal era has been extremely well portrayed and how the princes from a very young age know the rules of kingdom and how each one shall be assigned a role to play. Amongst them also, there are princes who see themselves as more worthy of the crown than others and there are others who are seen more than their true worth. How this feeling within them changes their behaviour and their interaction with their siblings from a very young age. We see that through the book, as they grow older, there is a distinct attachment between some siblings and a more distinct rivalry between some. The emperor sees and discards these rivalries which eventually does become the reason for one of his sons to take the throne and make him a prisoner till death.
The novel is written in a third person narrative with thoughts from every character detailed at one point of time or the other. Fast paced, sufficiently detailed and there is an great understanding of the women in the empire, their role to play and how they can influence politics without ever removing their veils.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, as I said, my first in this genre, and I think I shall be picking up one soon again.
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