Dharian Affairs, bk 1
by Susan Kaye Quinn
Steampunk goes to Bollywood.
I love this descriptor even more because it's actually true. So much of this story felt reminiscent of the film Jodhaa Akbar, about a Hindi princess forced to enter a peace-brokering marriage with a Muslim emperor, that I instantly felt the presence of Bollywood inspiration. Throw in rumors about a flying machine, some military intrigue, family secrets, and personal metamorphosis, and I'm one happy camper.
Princess Aniri of the powerful Dharian empire is days away from her birthday and the freedom it will grant her to escape the Queen's court and marry whomever she pleases. Specifically, a handsome courtesan whose kisses she steals in the moonlight. Cue the arrival of Prince Malik, of the barbarian mountain country Jungali, with an offer of a peace-brokering marriage between himself and the Queen's only remaining eligible daughter. Granted, for the first several chapters it seemed like this was going to be your run-of-the-mill 'princess forced to marry for duty while in love with someone else' story. But no. I learned pretty quick that Quinn doesn't want to settle for run-of-the-mill. Torn and bitter, Aniri confronts her mother. This is when the Queen says she doesn't want her daughter to marry the war-loving Jungali's prince. She wants her to spy on him.
Things got incredibly interesting from there.
With her devoted maid servant and a bodyguard who despises her, Aniri ventures into the heart of enemy territory. Her mission is to learn whether this sky warship exists and bring the information back to Dharia before the wedding date. After that, she will be free to marry the man she loves. Until then, she can't tell him the truth.
I fell in love with this world. It's rich with Eastern culture and influence, like an exotic spice in an otherwise traditional buffet. People have been talking a lot about needing diversity in books, so I would start here. Only once or twice did a distinctly English colloquialism catch me off guard. The infusion of Bollywood and steampunk was beautiful and felt so natural together, I'm shocked I haven't seen this done before. I will be interested to see how far the other two books in the trilogy will take us into the world -whether we'll see hints of any culture outside of India- but if we just stay within the three Queendoms presented in this first book, I'll be happy. (That's another thing -the three most powerful countries here are ruled by women.)
I would classify this as a military intrigue romance, and I was very happy to find it clean. There's lots of kissing, certainly, but Quinn stayed away from anything too descriptive, doing the love story justice without dipping into the steamy romance side of the pool. For this, a million kudos.
Another thing I loved about the romance was that the love triangle wasn't overdone or overemotional or tacky. There is definitely a love triangle, but it never felt like a high school drama/teen movie/soap opera love triangle. One of my major peeves of love triangles is the feeling somebody is always being unfair and unfaithful or just downright insensitive and I never felt this to be the case.
Aniri had wonderful depth and development. I loved watching her grow, not just emotionally and in confidence, but in genuinely becoming a better person. She constantly feels ashamed in the presence of Prince Malik, who is so devoted to his country and people, whereas she is just waiting for her chance to escape. I loved how much she learned from him, and I love that she still has the potential for more development. Even better, all the supporting characters had their own depth and minor development while contributing to hers as well. I didn't see any flat characters here, and I cheer for that.
Satisfactory ending, but with open-ended elements to be dealt with in book two. And I must say, after reading the summary for the sequel, and the main character's doubts about relationship choices, make me hopeful that Quinn will make a very healthy handling of the romantic relationships.
In short, I had incredibly high expectations of this book, and it didn't let me down. Third Daughter by Susan Kaye Quinn gets four stars and yes. You should read it.