Reading Indu Sundaresan books have always been a delight for me. And after finishing the final book in Taj Mahal series, Shadow Princess, I realized that history has been taught to us in a very different way during school. And I wish Indu Sundaresan would have been my history teacher, I would have paid more attention and scored better marks! But jokes apart, Shadow Princess has been a perfect end to a beautiful trilogy, which I started reading two years back.
In Shadow Princess, Indu Sundaresan picks up where she left off in The Twentieth Wife and The Feast of Roses. In the seventeenth century, after Mumtaz Mahal’s death during labor, we see two royal princesses struggle for power and position in the Mughal empire. The daughters of Emperor Jahangir, Jahanara and Roshanara conspire and scheme against one other to gain power over their Father’s Harem. As Royal Princesses, they are confined in the imperial harem and are not allowed to marry.
However, this slight change in their coming life doesn’t stop the rivalry between them. Illicit affairs, schemes, and rivalry among siblings rule the complete story of Shadow Princess. The royal sisters are in cut-throat competition for every iota of Mughal empire, from power to luxury to their father’s trust and love. Unfortunately, it is doomed that only one of them will live and lead.
But in a brilliant twist of fate, they both found themselves living in the shadow of the greatest Monument built by their father in the memory of their mother Mumtaz Mahal, The Taj Mahal.
In a very deep and thoughtful novel, very smartly Sundaresan has shown the readers how the struggle of power between women and finding their right place existed even during Mughal times. Sundaresan’s magical writing takes us back to the time when one of the Wonders of the World was being built and how it affected the Mughal Empire and the delicate thread of relationship between Jahangir’s sons and daughters.
The protagonist, Jahanara has the traits of the heroine of two previous novels, Mehrunissa, who makes a cameo appearance in Shadow Princess as well. At the young age of seventeen, after her mother’s death, she is bestowed with the responsibility of Jahangir’s harem, simultaneously having a power play with her sister Roshanara. Both Mehrunissa and Jahanara are intelligent beauties and have a willful nature along with the tragic love for their men. Both finish off their enemies slyly and make sure nobody questions their authority. And in desperation of their dreams, fall down to the earth, broken. In the end of the Shadow Princess, the Princess that emerges out is a shadow of another woman’s enduring memory, stored in white marble forever.
What makes Indu Sundaresan my favorite historical fiction writer is her ability to thread her words and research beautifully. Never once you feel bored or irritated with facts and figures. Also, the beauty of Mughal Empire has been depicted so well in all her three books that no book has come close to it till now for me!
Keeping in mind the dictates of famous women in historical fiction, she always gives an upper hand to bold female characters over men, which is really a fresh concept to read and retain. And the message is always the same in her book, including Shadow Princess, that many men were great, but within their shadow were women as proof that they are nothing without them, and proved that greater women stood behind them.
So all in all, this was a perfect end to a brilliant trilogy, and turned out to be one of the best books I have read so far in 2017. Make sure to pick your copy soon.