Rebel Queen (Thorndike Press Large Print Core)

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9781410478696: Rebel Queen (Thorndike Press Large Print Core)
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From the internationally bestselling author of "Nefertiti "and "Cleopatra's Daughter "comes the breathtaking story of Queen Lakshmi--India's Joan of Arc--who against all odds defied the mighty British invasion to defend her beloved kingdom.
When the British Empire sets its sights on India in the mid-nineteenth century, it expects a quick and easy conquest. India is fractured and divided into kingdoms, each independent and wary of one another, seemingly no match for the might of the English. But when they arrive in the Kingdom of Jhansi, the British army is met with a surprising challenge.
Instead of surrendering, Queen Lakshmi raises two armies--one male and one female--and rides into battle, determined to protect her country and her people. Although her soldiers may not appear at first to be formidable against superior British weaponry and training, Lakshmi refuses to back down from the empire determined to take away the land she loves.
Told from the unexpected perspective of Sita--Queen Lakshmi's most favored companion and most trusted soldier in the all-female army--"Rebel Queen "shines a light on a time and place rarely explored in historical fiction. In the tradition of her bestselling novel, "Nefertiti," " "and through her strong, independent heroines fighting to make their way in a male dominated world, Michelle Moran brings nineteenth-century India to rich, vibrant life.

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About the Author:

Michelle Moran is the internationally bestselling author of seven historical novels, including Rebel Queen, which was inspired by her travels throughout India. Her books have have been translated into more than twenty languages. A frequent traveler, Michelle currently resides with her husband and two children in the US. Visit her online at MichelleMoran.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Rebel Queen

Chapter One

1840

Imagine I took you down a long dirt road to the edge of a field, and we entered a farmer’s house built from mud brick and thatch. Now imagine I told you, “This is where I stood with the Rani of Jhansi during our escape from the British. And that corner, there, is where we changed into peasant’s clothes so she could reach the Fortress of Kalpi.” I suppose you would look from me, in my respectable sari and fine gold jewels, to the dirt floor of that one-room home and laugh. Only my eyes would remain serious, and slowly, the realization would dawn on you that all of the stories you heard must be true. The Rani of Jhansi—or Queen Lakshmi, as the British persisted in calling her—really did elude the powerful British army by dressing like a common farmer’s wife.

I’m not sure why this is so surprising to people. Didn’t Odysseus manage it when he disguised himself as a beggar? And the Duke of Vienna in Measure for Measure? Perhaps people’s surprise then is that I was the one who suggested she do it, taking inspiration from characters who’d only lived on the page. After all, I was not born to read such texts. In fact, I was not born to read at all. It was Father who insisted on my education. If it had been left to Grandmother, I would never have seen anything beyond the walls of my house. For, as I’m sure you know, women throughout India are nearly all in purdah.

When I was seven years old, I asked Father how this concept of secluding women came to be, and he guided me to a cool place in the shade. Our garden was large enough for a peepal tree, and it wasn’t until I was much older that I learned that not every house in Barwa Sagar was so spacious. But we were Kshatriyas, meaning our ancestors had been related to kings, just as their ancestors had been related to kings, and so on, I suppose, since the beginning of time. People have often asked me what these different castes mean, and I explain it like this: Imagine a beehive, which has workers, and breeders, and finally, a queen. Well, our castes are very much the same thing. There are Brahmins, whose job it is to be priests. There are Kshatriyas, who are the warriors and kings. There are the Vaishyas, who are merchants, farmers, and traders. And then there are the Shudras, who serve and clean. Just the same as a worker bee is born a worker bee and will die a worker bee, a person can never change their caste.

But that evening, as the setting sun burnished the clouds above us, turning the sky into a wide orange sea, Father explained purdah to me. He patted his knee, and when I climbed onto his lap, I could see the knotty muscles of his arms. They bulged beneath his skin like rocks. I held out my hand, and he used his finger to trace his words onto the flat of my palm.

“Do you remember the story of the first Mughal leader in India?” he wrote.

I took his hand and drew the words, “He was Muslim, and we are Hindu.”

“Yes. He was the one who brought purdah to our land.”

“So it’s Emperor Bahadur Shah’s fault that I can’t leave our house?”

Father’s arm tensed, and I knew at once that what I wrote must be wrong. “Purdah is no one’s fault,” he traced swiftly. “It’s to keep women safe.”

“From what?”

“Men, who might otherwise harm them.”

I sat very still. Did he mean that for the rest of my life, I would never know what lay beyond the walls of our garden? That I would never be able to climb the coconut trees? I felt a deep agitation growing inside of me.

“Well,” Father went on, “what’s troubling you now?”

Of course, Father didn’t use words like “well.” That was my addition; the way I imagined he would have spoken if he hadn’t lost his hearing while fighting alongside the British against the Burmese. Although you may wonder what the British were doing in India, and why any of us were fighting against the Burmese at all. It began in 1600, when English sailors first arrived in my country. If you’ve ever heard the story of the camel’s nose and how, on a cold winter’s night, the camel begged its master to allow it to place its nose inside the master’s tent, then you will quickly understand the British East India Company.

In the beginning, it was nothing more than a trading company buying up all of our rich spices and silks and shipping them to ­England, where a fortune could be made. But as the Company grew more successful, it needed to protect its profitable warehouses with several hundred armed guards. Then it needed several thousand armed soldiers. And one day, the rulers of India woke up to discover that the British East India Company had a powerful army. They were exactly like the camel, who promised at first it would just be its nose, then its legs, then its back, until finally it was the camel living inside the tent while the master shivered in the cold outside.

Soon, when one of our rulers needed military aid, they didn’t turn to other maharajas like themselves; instead they asked the British East India Company. And the more favors they asked, the more powerful the Company grew. Then, in 1824, a group of maharajas in northern India decided they’d had enough. They had been watching the Burmese take over their neighbors’ kingdoms year after year, and they knew that, just like with that cunning camel, it would only end once the Burmese were seated on their thrones as well. I can’t tell you why these same maharajas didn’t see that this story might apply to the British, too. You would think the safest thing would have been to turn to each other for help. But none of those powerful men wanted to be indebted to another maharaja. So instead, they indebted themselves to an outsider. They enlisted the help of the British East India Company, which was more than happy to wage war on Burma for their own, mostly economic, reasons.

Father fought in this war. Because of his caste, he was made a commanding officer and the Company paid him one hundred rupees a month for his post. I was only a few months old when he left for Burma, and there was every reason to believe that a glorious future lay ahead of Nihal Bhosale. He sent my sixteen-year-old mother letters from the front telling her that even though British customs were difficult to understand, fighting alongside these foreigners had its advantages. He was learning to speak English, and another officer had introduced him to a writer—a brilliant, unequaled writer—by the name of William Shakespeare.

“According to the colonel, if I wish to understand the British, I must first understand this Shakespeare.” Father took this advice to heart. He read everything Shakespeare wrote, from Othello to The Merchant of Venice, and when the war took his hearing two years later, it was Shakespeare who kept him company in his hospital bed.

Many years after this, I asked Father which of Shakespeare’s plays had comforted him the most while he was coming to terms with a world in which he’d never know the sound of his child’s voice or hear his wife sing ragas to Lord Shiva again. By that time, I had become a soldier myself in the rani’s Durga Dal—an elite group of the queen’s most trusted female guards. And by then, I, too, had read all of Shakespeare’s works.

Father thought for a moment, then told me what I had already guessed. “Henry V. Because there has never been a clearer, more persuasive argument for why we go to war.”

But war wasn’t what concerned me on that evening Father explained purdah to me. I was too young to understand about politics. All I knew was that I couldn’t play outside like the boys who drank juice from hairy coconut husks and staged mock battles with broken shoots of bamboo. I looked up at Father, with his bald head gleaming like a polished bowl in the sun, and wrote:

“Will I always be in purdah, even when I’m grown?”

“If you wish to be a respectable woman with a husband and children—as I hope you shall be—then, yes.”

But just as a crow will build its nest in a tree, only to have the sparrow come and tear it apart, the life Father had planned for me was ripped away by a little bird.

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9781476716367: Rebel Queen: A Novel

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ISBN 10:  1476716366 ISBN 13:  9781476716367
Publisher: Touchstone, 2016
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9781476716350: Rebel Queen: A Novel

Touchs..., 2015
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