Blog Tour: Star-Touched Stories by Roshani Chokshi



Rating: 4 stars
Release Date: August 7, 2018
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Genre: young adult fantasy short stories
Format/Source: ARC, from the publisher
Status: Book 2.5 of the Star-Touched series


Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour. This does not affect the content of my review.


Summary:
Three lush and adventurous stories in the Star-Touched world.

Death and Night
He was Lord of Death, cursed never to love. She was Night incarnate, destined to stay alone. After a chance meeting, they wonder if, perhaps, they could be meant for more. But danger crouches in their paths, and the choices they make will set them on a journey that will span lifetimes.

Poison and Gold
Now that her wish for a choice has come true, Aasha struggles to control her powers. But when an opportunity to help Queen Gauri and King Vikram's new reign presents itself, she is thrown into the path of the fearsome yet enchanting Spy Mistress. To help her friends, Aasha will have to battle her insecurities and perhaps, along the way, find love.

Rose and Sword
There is a tale whispered in the dark of the Empire of Bharat-Jain. A tale of a bride who loses her bridegroom on the eve of her wedding. But is it a tale or a truth?

Review:
It's been a little while since I've read a Roshani Chokshi book so as I went in, I wondered to myself when I started, "will these stories be as lush and magical as I remember The Star-Touched Queen being?" And the answer is abso-freaking-lutely. I love that phrase "paint a picture with your words", and that's EXACTLY what Roshani does with her prose. Every single image Roshani evokes is flecked with stardust and moonlight or sweetly scented or velvety or spicy, and honestly I'm here for it. Even the dark, somewhat horrifying, or even grotesque images are beautiful and evocative. I adore plot- and character-driven stories, and I really love that most YA writers have an unobtrusive writing style that doesn't get in the way of the story, but sometimes, when a writer is strong enough and the story is strong enough, really intense & descriptive language will enhance the story rather than bog it down & slow the pace. I think two writers who excel in this area are Laini Taylor and Roshani. So prepare yourself to be slapped in the face and also caressed and soothed by some freaking gorgeous writing with these stories.

As for the content of the stories, "Death and Night" actually released on its own last year, and it's a prequel (in chronological terms) to The Star-Touched Queen in which Death decides to take a bride and he sets his sights on the maiden Night. This story is swoony af, and those of you who loved TSTQ are going to love it and be so happy but also sad because TSTQ reasons but also super happy again. I mean seriously. The TENSION in this story is off the charts! There's courting and adventures and banter and DID I MENTION THE SEXUAL TENSION?? I love really easy romance when kisses are plentiful and frequent, but I also love when I feel like I have to work to get there as the reader, and when I do get there, it's as satisfying as if I'm the one kissing! This is one of the latter!! And shout out to Gupta, who I don't recall being this sassy in TSTQ, but again it's been awhile. The way he gives Death lip gave me life.

The other two stories "Poison and Gold" and "Rose and Sword" are both set post-A Crown of Wishes. In the first, Gauri & Vikram send their friend Aasha to the Spy Mistress to train as a new Spy Mistress. This story was fun because it's got a fair bit of action, and the course of love does not entirely run smooth. Zahril, the current Spy Mistress, is a prickly one by necessity of her job and also baggage (I feel ya, girl) whereas Aasha is a little tentative and unsure of herself/her place in the human world but also incredibly persistent. I would say the best thing about this story is Aasha's growth into someone who trusts herself and her unique capabilities. She's also incredibly sweet, and I loved seeing her bring Zahril back into the world. The only thing I didn't love about "Poison and Gold" is that there's a bit of telling vs showing during Aasha's training, and I really would have liked to have seen it more. Training as Spy Mistress was the catalyst for the story, but you basically see a training montage that encompasses three months and then bam! Time for the final test & go back home. But there's really good banter (I laughed out loud!), some great action sequences, and it's f/f!

"Rose and Sword" might be my favorite story of the bunch. It's set both several decades in the future on the eve of one of Gauri's granddaughter's wedding and a few weeks after "Poison and Gold" on the eve of her own wedding to Vikram when he suddenly falls ill and is in danger of meeting Death. GAH, I loved this story. Gauri and Vikram have never been a conventional couple, and that is highlighted here: Gauri's tenacity and physical strength vs Vikram's charm and bookishness. But underneath all that... they fit, like two differently shaped puzzle pieces that nevertheless are always meant to be together, no matter one's hard edges and the other's... loops? Imperfect metaphor, but you know what I mean. There's an amazing scene in which the two argue, and Gauri spells it out for Vikram why it's impossible for women in power to be well-liked and charming, and it's a HELL YEAH, THIS IS WHY FEMINISM IS IMPORTANT moment without being obvious. And there are also these lovely, quiet moments that are just about love and HOW to love someone else, even when you're different or don't agree all the time, and that it's okay to argue as long as you find a way to come back together. And damn if I don't want some man to build me a garden with gorgeous flowers and also swords and daggers, and I ALSO want him to make me a magical flying paper wonderland. Seriously, these kids know how to make a GESTURE like nobody else! And shout out to my homegirl death horse Kamala, who I adored in TSTQ and is as lively and scene-stealing as ever.

The Star-Touched Stories are gorgeously written novellas containing your favorite characters from TSTQ and ACOW, and if you've read and loved those books, you should read and love these stories. I love that this world is infused with magic so Death and Night can fall in love and a poisonous girl can kill with one touch and another girl can trek the Otherworld to rescue her love from Death... but also... the magic is love. It's friendship and dreaming and finding yourself, discover a purpose to your life. Magic is life itself, the act of living. And I think it's damn magical that fantastic worlds can teach us that.

Excerpt:

•» 1 «•
DEATH

I stood outside the home, watching as the light beaded and dripped down the length of the Tapestry thread. I waited. There was never any rush. Not for me at least.

The light dangled from the end of the string, clinging and re- luctant. A passing wind stirred the ends of the thread, teasing out strands of memory. The memories plumed into the air, releasing the scent of a life lived in love. One by one, the memories unraveled— a pillow shared by two heads bent close in secrecy, a frayed blanket kept inside an eternally empty cradle, a table that sagged from the weight of uncertain feasts. Happiness stolen from the edges of sorrow.

I stepped over the threshold.

The lights in the hut extinguished. Shadows slipped off the walls to gather around my feet. Inside the hut, someone had propped up a stingy fire. Cinnamon scented the air. Past the dusty vestibule, rows upon rows of bay leaves hung from the ceiling. Strange runes scratched into small animal bones and ivory hairpins lay in carefully constructed patterns. I laughed. Someone had tried to ward me away. But there was no door that didn’t open to me.

At the far corner of the house huddled two people. A man in the arms of a woman. Old age had blessed him, yet for all his gnarled veins and silver-streaked hair, the woman cradled him as if he were a child. He murmured softly into the crook of her neck. I watched them. She wasn’t crying.

The woman looked up . . . and saw me.

How refreshing.
“Greetings, Dharma Raja,” said the woman in a clear voice.

I took in the bay leaves and bone pins. “You were expecting me, I take it.”

“Yes,” she said, hanging her head. “I regret that I cannot serve you any food or drink or treat you as a guest in our home.”

“Don’t let it trouble you,” I said, waving my hand. “I am rarely a guest. Merely an inevitable occurrence.”

Her husband did not stir in her arms. His breath had grown soft. While the woman had kept her eyes trained on me, I had taken away his pain, siphoned it bit by bit. I was in a generous mood.

“You have come for him.”

“As I will for you, one day. I could tell you the hour, if you wish it.”

“No.”

I shrugged. “Very well.”

She clutched him tighter. Her hands trembled. I knew she could feel his life unspooling. She may have seen me, but she did not see his life pooling beneath him.


“May I ask something of you, Dharma Raja?”

“You may.”

But I need not honor it.

“We always wished to leave this life together.”

“I cannot change your appointed time, even if I wished.”

She closed her eyes. “Then may I request, instead, that you not let him pass to the next life until I may join him there?”

Now this was interesting. I sank backward into the air, and an onyx throne swirled up to meet me. I tilted my head, watching her.

“Why? I haven’t weighed your life yet. What if you were far more honorable than your husband in this life? I could pour your soul into the mold of a princess blessed with beauty and intellect, riches and wonders. I could add silver to your heart and fortify you from any
heartbreak. I could give you a life worthy of legends.”
She shook her head. “I would rather have him.”

“You’d rather have him, and whatever life that entails?” I leaned forward, eyeing the dingy room.

Her eyes flashed. “Yes.”
“He may not even come back as a human. Believe me. I’ve remade emperors into cockroaches and cockroaches into kings. You seem like a reasonably intelligent woman. Would you truly like to keep house for a bug?”

She lifted her chin. “I would be his mate in any form.”

A curious emotion prickled my skin, nudging the back of my thoughts. My hands tightened on the shadow throne. Before I could stop myself, the question flew from me:

“Why? ”

“Because I love him,” said the woman. “I would prefer any life with him than any life without him. Even the deities know love to the point that they will chase their counterpart through thousands of lifetimes. Surely you, oh Dharma Raja, understand how extraordinary love can be?”

I knew very well what could come of love. I had seen it. Been cursed by it. Even now, I thought of her. The way she ran away and left a shadow in her place. Love was extraordinary.

Extraordinarily spiteful.

Extraordinarily blind.

Extraordinarily misleading.

“Bold words,” I said.

“They do not move you?”

I shrugged. “You may appeal and supplicate and wheedle as you wish, but I have heard every excuse and plea and sputter, and my heart has never been moved.”

The woman bowed her head. She gathered her husband to her chest. Her wedding bangles clanked together, breaking the silence. When I left, custom dictated that she must remove those wedding ornaments. Widows did not wear such bracelets. I had not consid- ered until now that the sound itself was a thing near death. And that chime—gold against gold—struck me far louder than any keening. In the echoes, I heard something hollow. And lonely.

I dropped the noose. It slid through the man’s skin, noiseless as silk. Life had left him. All that was left was his soul.

You never forget what it’s like to withdraw a soul. It is an unclasping. Sometimes a soul is tough and hard, surrounded by sinews of memories gone brittle with age. Sometimes a soul is soft and bursting like wind-fallen fruit, all bruised tenderness and stale hope. And sometimes a soul is an ethereal shard of light. As if the force of its life is a scorching thing.

This soul belonged to light.

When the woman looked down, she knew that her husband was gone. The thing she cradled was nothing more than meat soon to spoil. Tears slid down her wrinkled cheeks.

“Come now,” I said, standing from the throne. “I have taken hus- bands when their wives still wore the henna from their wedding. I consider you lucky.”

“I beg of you,” she said. “Don’t let him move on without me. He would have asked the same.”

I swung the soul into a satchel and the light faded. I headed for the door, more out of formality than anything else. If I wanted, I could’ve disappeared right then and there.

“Please. What would you do for someone you loved?”

I stopped short. “I can’t say I’ve had the pleasure of that provocation.”

“You love no one?” she asked, her eyebrows rising in disbelief.

“I love myself. Does that count?”

And then I left.

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About the Author:
Roshani Chokshi is the New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen, A Crown of Wishes, and Aru Shah and the End of Time. She grew up in Georgia, where she acquired a Southern accent but does not use it unless under duress. She has a luck dragon that looks suspiciously like a Great Pyrenees dog. Her work has appeared in Strange Horizons, Shimmer, and Book Smugglers. She is the 2016 finalist for the Andre Norton Award, and a 2016 Locus finalist for Best First Novel. Her short story, "The Star Maiden," was longlisted for the British Fantasy Science Award.



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6 comments:

  1. Thanks for the excerpt! Now I have to read this. The writing is powerful and the character development just in this short section is exactly what I love to find in my books.

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    1. Roshani has some of the best prose in YA! It's S T U N N I N G!

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  2. I’m so excited to read these stories! I adore TSTQ and ACOW so much, Roshani’s writing is simply amazing! Thank you for sharing this magical excerpt!

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  3. This certainly sounds layered, with a lot of gods and magic!

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