It’s time for another book review! This time, I’ve had the ultimate pleasure of reading Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel. Holy shit friends, did I enjoy this book so much!? I feel like this review is just going to be an incoherent mess of half-formed thoughts and pure emotions, but I’m not even mad about it. You really should go and just read this book instead of this review.
No, still here? Alright, let’s do some more convincing.
A copy of this book was provided as an ARC on behalf of the publisher, in exchange for my honest review.
Publisher: Redhook | Release Date: April 2022 | Pages: 496
Age Range: Adult | Genre: Fantasy | Format: Hardcover | Source: ARC
So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.
Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.
But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak — and what legacy she intends to leave behind.
A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.
On the Page
- Arranged/forced marriage
- Death of a sibling
- Death of a parent
- Mind control and possession
- Neglect (parental)
- War themes and military violence
- Infertility themes
Content warnings are written up by me, unless specified. Subject to being an incomplete list, though guided by referencing this list and trying to highlight as many as I can identify.
- Format of the story: I really loved–and dreaded–that we were told up front about how this book was going to end. We knew that Kaikeyi was, in many ways, a tragedy. Yet, we didn’t know how that was going to become true, setting us off on a quest to see how this tragedy comes to be. Seeing her entire life was a wonderful build up of tension. Seeing it from her perspective was heartbreaking.
- Kaikeyi: I loved our asexual protagonist. What she stood for, how she fought for both herself and the women in her life. I appreciated seeing her mistakes, seeing her fall and actually getting to experience the emotions that caused was so rewarding (and also painful). Her story was so beautifully crafted, I didn’t want her life to be upended. I wanted it to work.
- Pulls no punches: But, it didn’t work, did it? The fallout was just as painful as the opening promises.
- The writing: I also thought the writing itself to be very enjoyable to read. Considering I used multiple lunch breaks to read large chunks of this novel (sometimes I haven’t done in ages) says a lot.
- I’m struggling to come up with any? This was just heavily enjoyable.
Obviously, I enjoyed Kaikeyi a lot! I am not familiar at all with its source material, the Ramayana. Yet, that didn’t take away my enjoyment of this story at all. In fact, it made me want to learn more about what inspired such a powerful, thought provoking and relentless story of one woman’s life; and how she changed the world, broke it and helped, slowly, to put it back together again.
I highly recommend this read, especially if you’re looking for a non-Western inspired story with strong writing, complex family themes, battles for feminism, an asexual main character and a tragic turn of events. But I won’t apologize for your heart strings. Oof.