The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is Roshani Chokshi’s adult novel debut. I’ve read some of her young adult fantasy before and enjoyed it, and her short story was one of my stand out favourites in the Arthurian anthology Sword Stone Table (see my review of the anthology for Grimdark Magazine here). Chokshi has a magical way with words, able to turn a simple sentence into something that draws you into her world and doesn’t let you escape again. And this writing is really where The Last Tale of the Flower Bride excels. A mythical, haunting story told in lyrical prose that almost manages to hide how dark it truly is. This is a lot more literary than much of what we write about here, but it skirts enough on the side of the uncanny and horrific that I think there is a lot of crossover, especially for readers of Silvia Moreno-Garcia, V.E. Schwab or perhaps a gothic Madeline Miller.
The story weaves the atmosphere of fairy tales with the fervor of a gothic fever dream, making the reader lose sight of reality and fantasy along with the characters. The story follows a bridegroom, married to a mysterious woman named Indigo, her dying aunt and Indigo’s childhood friend Azure, who disappeared without a trace. The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is a novel not driven by plot but by relationships and vignettes, by moments and characters. If you are looking for a linear story or a straight-forward novel, this is probably not the right read for you.
Indigo and Azure, their obsessive friendship destined to end in tragedy (this is not a spoiler, this sentence is actually taken from the cover copy), are a delicious trainwreck waiting to happen – a broken relationship that develops over years but neither can extricate themselves from it. And the way it does end? Unexpected and brilliant, and one of the best moments in the entire book. And the bridegroom and Indigo have such an interesting relationship too, driven by curiosity and mystery, by myths, stories and gifts.
This will not be a book for everyone, but when it does click, this lush, atmospheric story of trust and dysfunctional relationships, of love in all its forms will resonate with you for a long time after you’re done with reading. I know I am already tempted to reread it and see what elements of mythology I can pick up on to look into on a reread – Chokshi clearly drew on her South Asian heritage for this novel, and as someone unfamiliar with the corpus of traditional stories, I am curious to learn more. The Last Tale of the Flower Bride is inspiring, romantic, but also very dark – I think there’s much to like here for the Grimdark reader.