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I had been waiting to get my hands on this book for a while as I had already read the other two in the series. In fact, I read Shadow Princess about Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal’s daughter Jahanara first, and then The Feast of Roses, which describes the consolidation of Nur Jahan’s power.

The first book in the series, The Twentieth Wife, elaborates on Nur Jahan’s early life, leading up to her marriage to the Emperor Jahangir. It literally opens with her birth and ends with her aged 34 or so, on her wedding day. Both this book and its sequel cover one of the greatest romance of all time. The story of the Taj Mahal is often presented as one of the greatest love stories ever, but the love story of Nur Jahan and Jahangir seems even more compelling, possibly because Nur Jahan herself was such a feisty character. Her beauty and the Emperor’s love were just two sources of her power, the other was her intelligence and resourcefulness which she used to rule in lieu of the Emperor. That she was the power beyond the throne has been acknowledged in historical accounts of the time and documents such as imperial farmans that she issued herself.

I also felt curious about Jagat Gosini, Jahangir’s favourite before Nur Jahan captivated his attention. A Rajput princess, she was also a force to be reckoned with.

I really need to read more about this period. Our history textbooks, as always, were inadequate in this regard.

Like many series, this one gets better with each subsequent book. There were some lapses, repetitions and even a few typos in this book. The other two were far more accomplished and if I have to pick my favourite of the series, I’d go with The Feast of Roses. I was really startled by the power, erudition and wits of women in the zenana as also by the beauty of the love story. So if you want to start this series, I might even recommend starting with the second book first.

Anyone have other fiction from this period to recommend?

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