I have been staying away from young adult literature lately because I have had so many disappointing reads from that genre. However, I won a giveaway for The Star-Touched Queen on Goodreads and since it was recently released I thought I’d give it a try. The novel is being marketed as a standalone fantasy inspired by Indian folklore/mythology. The main character is Maya, a princess who is born into her father’s harem. Unlike all of Maya’s half-sisters who have been married off, Maya is still a maiden at age seventeen because of her cursed horoscope. As an act of desperation, her father plans to marry her off in an attempt at peace between the countries Maya’s kingdom is at war with. The plan does not go smoothly and Maya finds herself in a world that she thought only existed in fairy-tales.
Mythology, political intrigue and Indian culture all in a standalone fantasy novel? Sign me up! But… after reading it I might have to add it to the pile of YA disappointments. There is very little of everything. The myths are told in an off hand manner or glossed over. Mythological beasts are mentioned, but not often described well. The politics do not really exist. (Why is everyone at war again?) The novel is pretty short at about 330 pages and it shows. The potential for a great story is there, but everything feels hurried. So many questions pile up throughout the narrative and the last few chapters try desperately to sew up the loose ends.
I also hoped that the familiar YA tropes would not crop up, but they did. Maya is special and can do things no one else can and her love is, of course, instantaneous. There are reasons for both, but they are, again, explained very quickly in the end. To top it off, the writing is overly bloated with meaningless metaphors. Which really saddens me because there are so many interesting places, beings and events that could use descriptions that actually allow the reader to envision them.
What annoys me the most is the characters. I liked Maya during the first quarter of the book. She loves one of her half-sisters dearly and tells her stories (though we hear none of said stories). She is not afraid to spy on her father’s meetings, but after she meets her love interest she becomes a malleable pile of lovey-dovey goo. She goes alone with everything he says and she cannot question anything because of a curse that does not allow anyone to speak of the fantasy world she is in. (Which is a plot point that seems a little flimsy to me to begin with.)
When Maya notices some strange happenings that only she seems to see/hear she does not even try to question others about them. She takes it upon herself to go looking for clues even though she is told repeatedly how dangerous it is. The other characters, when they do notice she is acting strange, do not question her either even though they presumably know the dangers. Maya’s quest does not flow well. It feels like she visits places just to check them off a list. Basically, the actions of the characters are unbelievable because of flimsy plot devices and contrived circumstances that do not feel natural to the flow of the story. They act the way they do only to further the plot and not so they can be fleshed out characters.
Am I just expecting too much from YA novels? Maybe. I am certainly beginning to think so. The Star-Touched Queen feels stilted, overly flowery, and has a thin romance. I can see an audience for this novel, but I expected much more depth to the story, characters, and the use of mythology. It was simply an OK read, but I do give a few bonus points for at least trying to incorporate mythology into the story. Those aspects were easily the best part of the novel.