Shors’s spirited debut novel tells the story of the eldest daughter of the 17th-century emperor who built the Taj Mahal. From her self-imposed exile, Jahanara recalls growing up in the Red Fort; the devotion her parents, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, had for each other; and the events that took place during the construction of the fabulous monument to their love. Although Jahan is the emperor and has many wives, Mumtaz (he calls her Taj) is his soul mate, a constant companion and wise political consultant. She even travels with him into battle, where she eventually dies giving birth to their 14th child. Fortunately, she has the foresight to begin preparing her favorite daughter, Jahanara, by instructing the girl in the arts of influence and political strategy. Thus the young woman is able to pick up where her savvy mother left off. From then on it is Jahanara who advises the emperor, often instead of her dreamy brother, Dara, who is the rightful heir to the throne. It is she who helps with construction of the magnificent mausoleum for Mumtaz’s remains and who falls in love with its architect, Isa, a man whom she can never marry. And it is she who leads a failed effort to defend the throne against a coup by her evil brother, Aurangzeb. With infectious enthusiasm and just enough careful attention to detail, Shors give a real sense of the times, bringing the world of imperial Hindustan and its royal inhabitants to vivid life.
I didn’t know much about the Taj Mahal other than the facts that it’s one of the most beautiful architectures in the world, a grief-striken husband who happens to be the king built this Mausoleum for his dead beloved third wife and that they used lots and lots of marbles.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the history of India around 17th century along with the royal family and their stories. I had to be careful as to not believe everything since it is indeed a history-based fiction but I loved finding out about the religious struggles between the Hindu and the Muslim in India back then as well as their cultures, which could be horrifying at time for an outside like me.
It was quite an eye opener for me and I highly recommend this book (not for under 18 I’d say due to certain disturbing scenes and descriptions).