Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
Published by Redhook
Release Date : 26th April 2022
“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”
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.
I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.
ARC provided by the publisher Redhook and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
An all-around epic fantasy debut; Kaikeyi has cemented Vaishnavi Patel as the freshest new voice, claiming a spot as the best debut in fantasy this year.
Amidst my packed schedule with wedding planning and life in general, I still make time to work on my TBR mountain. This month is steer my focus mostly towards ARCs of 2022 releases that I want to read and review before their release date. Being a mood reader this is no easy task as I need to be in the right state of mind and mood to pick up a book. Though I didn’t take me long to decide to pick up Kaikeyi as it is one of my most anticipated releases and debut in 2022.
During the start of 2022 when all the books set to release was announced none of them caught my eye like Kaikeyi. At first it was the vibes I got from reading the synopsis that compelled me to want to read this debut. Thankfully from my ratings above it is proven that this book is the debut to watch out for.
Before I dive in to the review and start rambling on why readers should pre-order Kaikeyi right now, I would like to appreciate the fantastic cover of this book done Orbit designer Lisa Marie Pompilio. This simple cover of the main character’s silhouette emphasizing on the accessories worn by Kaikeyi really caught my eye the first time I saw it. It gives of major queen vibes that is the perfect teaser to the contents of this epic standalone debut.
If the gods had already ordained my evil deeds, then I had nothing to lose by defying them now. So, I would defy them.
Kaikeyi is an epic Hindu mythological retelling and standalone debut by fantasy’s brightest new voice Vaishnavi Patel. The story of Kaikeyi is based on the Sanskrit epic from ancient India commonly known by devotees of Hinduism titled Ramayana. The story of Ramayana is one of the most famous epics that has been widely adapted and told in a variety of versions and languages besides Indian, such as Cambodian, Indonesia, Filipino, Thai, Lao, Burmese, and Malay (source). In the well known epic of Ramayana the story focuses on Rama’s story and his many adventures during his exile.
For this book the story shifts the perspective to one of the most interesting and villainized character in the epic, Kaikeyi. The story focuses on Kaikeyi rise to power starting from her birth and upbringing with a fantastical twist involving scheming gods with a sprinkle of Hindu legends throughout the book. From the very first line Vaishnavi Patel perfectly introduces the main character and sets the the tone of this epic saga filled with promise of a good story. As reflected on my star rating it fulfilled that promise indeed.
The vast world building will take readers on an adventure across multiple kingdoms from Kekaya to Kosala and many other magical sites. During the first half the story mostly focuses on political machinations to show how Kaikeyi rose to power and how she establishes her legendary status as a radnyi that became an icon for women in the story.
The later half of the book there is more variety in the story as it contained a lot of adventuring scenes filled with encounters with gods and magical creatures. The sensory descriptions adds to the immersion and making the story even more vibrant. Kaikeyi is truly an epic fantasy that is immersive in which readers can easily get pulled in the moment they start reading it without it being too overwhelming. Every inch of this world I adore as it is lush, intricate, and interesting.
Patel extends this to their characters as well by giving attention to the details that makes their characters stand out. From the colour of their saris, the jewelry decorating every inch of their body, the kohls under their eyes, etc these details adds a lot of the characters persona giving them a flourish to assert their standing and power. I look forward to reading these details while reading as it gives the characters movement and drama in certain scenes.
The magic in Kaikeyi is subtle, simple, versatile and well balanced by giving it a consequence if overused. Readers will learn about the magic together with the main character throughout the book. It is a well planted plot tool that is significant without it being an easy exit route for the character and the progression of the story.
In helping another woman, I had in fact helped myself.
Vaishnavi Patel’s writing is vivid, descriptive, lyrical and powerful. Patel’s prose is meaningful and carries a resonance that echoes throughout the story. The themes of familial love, self worth, independence, family, and many more that are weaved in Kaikeyi by Patel are executed wonderfully. Though I would like to point out the core theme that becomes the red string of Kaikeyi is the feminist discussions and gender equality.
Kaikeyi spearheads the movement for women to fight for their independence to be recognized and respected on equal standing as a man. The scenes where Kaikeyi decides to ignore the out dated values and going against the gods to pave the way for women is inspiring to me. The way Patel weaves these feminist themes isn’t at all one noted and preachy.
Patel shows the progression of the society slowly through the acts of their characters to mold the world into the a more modern society that is believable. I’ve encountered in other books that tries to weave feminist themes into their stories would fall flat in execution. Kaikeyi certainly is the standard as it sets a magnificent example on how to execute it well into the story complete with believable narrative that is entertaining and gripping.
The driving force of this novel is the main protagonist Kaikeyi. Readers will follow Kaikeyi from her childhood until adulthood, long story short there will be a lot of time jumps. But no worries Patel writes the transitions of time smoothly and it isn’t at all hard to follow.
Kaikeyi’s life is filled with trials and tribulations from the banishment of her mother, the challenges of becoming radnyi of the court at a young age, arranged marriage, and many more. Kaikeyi’s development as a character is believable as she is one of most well fleshed out characters I’ve read so far this year. She truly outshines all the other characters in the story as readers will get a chance to see all facets of her amazing characterization.
Patel breathed life into Kaikeyi showing not only the good parts of her character but also the imperfect sides that is vulnerable and dark. The pacing of the plot of the story follows the development of her character making the eventual reveal in the climax of the story even more satisfying.
Patel stays true to the myth with the narrative that is widely known but what made it interesting is that Kaikeyi addresses the villainization of her character that is done in most depictions that exist today. Readers will get to read how Kaikeyi gives her perspective into what ‘truly happened’ debunking rumours and other supposed false interpretations of her actions.
I find this interesting whenever I read the start of the chapter being opened by Kaikeyi giving her personal take on certain happenings in the story. Though I have a small gripe regarding the scenes nearing the end because even though it was accurate certain things about it needed more time to marinate to give it a more stronger ending.
I am at peace, for I know the truth. Before this story was Rama’s, it was mine.
Final thoughts, Kaikeyi is phenomenal debut that will take you on an epic fantastical journey defying gods and prophecies reimagining a well known story in Hindu myth, Ramayana, from the perspective of a well fleshed out strong female character. It is a story that sets an example for a feminist themed stories with wonderful execution, vivid and lush world building, simple and effective magic, and overall amazing story telling.
This saga exceeded my expectations and delivered that spark I hoped for when I first read the opener of this book. Personally I am thoroughly excited for this book to be released and for everyone to read it, especially readers that know the story of Ramayana.
By far Kaikeyi is one of the strongest debuts this year and cannot wait to read more books written by Vaishnavi Patel. This debut solidifies Patel’s masterful skill in story telling as a fresh new voice in adult SFF. I highly recommend this book for those who like books such as She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker Chan as I see parallels between the characters that tackles their destiny to achieve greatness defying the expectations set upon them. Pre order Kaikeyi if you haven’t! You will not regret it.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.