REVIEW: Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

While retellings have been on trend for a few years now, there is still a huge focus on Greek mythology. So Vaishnavi Patel’s Kaikeyi, based on stories and characters from the Ramayana is a welcome breath of fresh air in the genre. It tells the story of the eponymous Kaikeyi, a princess and queen, known for her heinous treatment of her stepson Rama in the legends. What makes this story stand out is that it doesn’t take away from her traditional role, from the actions ascribed to her or make her out to be a good person. This version of events sets Kaikeyi up as a complex character, intelligent and ambitious, flawed but caring and trying to consider the greater good rather than personal gain.

Cover of KaikeyiThe Ramayana is one of two great Hindu epics, along with the Mahabharata. In these stories, which are thought to have been around since between the 8th and the 4th century BCE, Kaikeyi doesn’t play a very important role – she is the catalyst for the hero’s journey. In Vaishnavi Patel’s tale, she gets to tell her own story. The reader follows along as she grows from princess into a fierce woman and queen, raised on a steady diet of the gods’ (mis)adventures. Except, it turns out that they have a destiny in store for her. And so, (step)mother, warrior, diplomat, Kaikeyi has to navigate treacherous politics both human and divine.

I loved diving into a new world of myth and legend through Kaikeyi. Usually, retellings have a sort of comfort read factor for me, where familiarity with the source material makes a first read feel like a mix between discovery and re-read, like coming home. But finding myself unmoored in a story that followed some of the conventions of the genre while missing that crucial aspect of familiarity made the reading experience really exciting. Kaikeyi still had the poetic quality of oral storytelling, of being rooted in stories that have evolved over centuries. It doesn’t quite feel like traditional secondary world fantasy. It really ignited my curiosity – and I ended my read by looking up characters and stories from the Ramayana. And that to me makes this a great book. I also found that the close first-person narration added to that feeling of oral storytelling, of immediacy, as well.

This is a slower paced story, focused on characters and politics over action. It is plenty dark though, filled with betrayals, moral cul-de-sacs and pesky fates. It is a read that pays off – and one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Read Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

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Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne Schwizer

Fabienne can usually be found with her nose in a book or two. Most of her life revolves around words, be that reading, writing, or editing. You can find more of her ramblings over on www.libridraconis.com, where she also reviews YA books and more lighthearted Fantasy and Science Fiction, as @FLSchwizer on Twitter, and @libri_draconis on Instagram. If you're curious about what she is currently reading, check out www.goodreads.com/libridraconis.