Sunday, May 10, 2009

Book 50: The Twentieth Wife

The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan

Given the title, and the fact that this is historical fiction, the fact that Mehrunissa will eventually achieve her goal set out early in the novel is not a surprise. Not that I'm very familiar with large parts of Indian history, but the cover of the book even explains that this novel is about Mehrunissa and Prince Salim/Emperor Jahangir. This is actually the first of two novels based on them: this one focuses on Mehrunissa's life before her marriage to the emperor, and the second will explore her reign as empress, during which she apparently managed to be one of the most powerful women in Indian history.

Knowing the outcome, I enjoyed reading to see how exactly everything would end up that way, since at times it seemed like it would be impossible. Mehrunissa definitely was an interesting character, and while her fascination with Salim was well portrayed, there were times when I wondered about whether he deserved it. Using historical fact, Sundaresan does not try to make Salim/Jahangir better than he was: he had an alcohol problem, he was easily influenced by courtiers as a young man, and he rebelled against his father in his desire to come to the throne. He also seems to mature as he grows up, however, and eventually becomes emperor, trying to make good decisions. I'm definitely interested to see how Mehrunissa gained and used her power once she had married him, so I've already ordered the second book.

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