Star-Touched Stories: Blog Tour Stop and Review

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If you've followed my blog for a while now, you know that I am a huge fan of Roshani Chokshi's writing and immensely enjoyed her lush storytelling in The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes. The next installment in this world is a collection of three short stories that revisits some of my favorite characters and I couldn't wait to immerse myself in these folkloric tales! Note: I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own!

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?

Deftly woven with fantastical elements and Indian mythology, the tales reflect and materialize the characters’ internal struggles… Aasha’s and Gauri’s stories explore complex themes of identity, ambition, love, and loss. Chokshi marries sensuous storytelling with kick-ass protagonists in these feminist romances. – Kirkus Reviews

My Review

Chokshi has this uncanny ability to create the most ethereal visions out of words. It was awesome to revisit the worlds of Naraka and the Otherworld and once again be immersed in the magic that those lands possess. Readers must absolutely be familiar with the original books before delving into this collection, otherwise they'll be totally lost. Though the stories in this book were quite short, Chokshi weaved three tales to supplement The Star-Touched Queen and A Crown of Wishes. I'll review each short story briefly to avoid spoilers, and then the collection overall! 

Death and Night

This is probably my favorite story of the lot, and there's an excerpt from it waiting for you at the end of this blog post! This is a prequel story to The Star-Touched Queen and it certainly had me swooning. In my opinion, this short story was the most well-rounded and satisfying, complete in its entirety. 

Poison and Gold

This short story focuses on Aasha, who didn't nearly get enough time in A Crown of Wishes! We explore a side to her that we hadn't seen in the novel and it so wonderfully celebrates the strength of love. The mini-plot in this short story is a bit cliche, but for those who enjoy romance and happy endings, Poison and Gold will do just fine.

Rose and Sword

In this short story, we focus on Gauri and Vikram's relationship again, which was full of witty banter and the slowest of slow burns. I appreciated how this story addressed their seemingly perfect romance- there was a clear moral at the end of this one.

Overall, this collection of short stories is perfect for anyone who loves Chokshi's prose and misses the Star-Touched world she crafted for us with her first two novels. Though beautifully written, I confess that the stories didn't leave me satisfied! But that might just be a personal thing with short stories- I always want more than what the compressed plot of a short story can deliver. I felt that two of the three stories in this collection felt like accessories to the original Star-Touched world, rather than adding a new dimension to it. 

I rate Star-Touched Stories 4/5 stars!

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EXCERPT

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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, row 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 extraor- dinary 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 un- clasping. Sometimes a soul is tough and hard, surrounded by sin- ews 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.