The main character of this book, Jahanara, was a factual person, the favorite daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal). This is a fictionalized account of her life presented in journal entry format, to the utter detriment of the story.
While author Kathryn Lasky has scores of books to her credit, the telling of Jahanara’s story falls flat. And telling it is. The diary is an excessively long narrative with little dialogue, poorly developed characters, a dull plot, and little that makes the writing rich or beautiful. In addition, it contains too many foreign names to digest. Everyone, it seemed, from the least slave to distant generals, had a lengthy name, but most didn’t matter and should have been left anonymous. There were also way too many native words used without enough context to easily grasp their meaning, although, to her credit, Lasky does include a glossary. Finally, the number of random facts squeezed in cause the book to read more like a history than a story.
Jahanara does have some good qualities, however. Its greatest strength is a very strong sense of setting. Lasky gives some very lovely details about Indian landscapes and climate and especially the splendor of the palaces Jahanara is confined to. The irony of her heroine also presents an interesting premise. Though extremely wealthy and privileged, the princess is a prisoner of the haram; one of many, she is lonely and bored. But she never evolves. She never grows, learns, changes, becomes. She just is until the end of the tale. Fortunately, the story contains a bit of historical political intrigue that persuades readers to give the next page a turn. And the factual information presented at the end of the book is interesting. Thankfully, she didn’t try to fit all of it into the story.
While I learned some new things about India, I would not recommend this book. Ages 12+