Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
Publication Date: April 26th, 2022
Hardcover. 432 pages.
"“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”
So begins Kaikeyi’s story. The only daughter of the kingdom of Kekaya, she is raised on tales about the might and benevolence of the gods: how they churned the vast ocean to obtain the nectar of immortality, how they vanquish evil and ensure the land of Bharat prospers, and how they offer powerful boons to the devout and the wise. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to how great a marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.
Desperate for some measure of independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With this power, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen, determined to carve a better world for herself and the women around her.
But as the evil from her childhood stories threatens the cosmic order, the path she has forged clashes with the destiny the gods have chosen for her family. And Kaikeyi must decide if resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak—and what legacy she intends to leave behind."
Kaikeyi tells the story of the vilified queen Kaikeyi from the epic poem Ramayana. In the Ramayana, Kaikeyi is portrayed as a jealous queen who favors her son and works against Rama for personal reasons. In Kaikeyi, however, Patel takes a new look at Kaikeyi and gives her the space to tell her own perspective of this story and how Kaikeyi’s bravery and determination make her a truly compelling and influential woman with much more depth and complexity than she is often given.
I’ve seen Kaikeyi compared to Circe by Madeline Miller quite a bit and although I tend to shy away from too many book-to-book comparisons, I do think that it’s an accurate comparison and good indicator for interest in Kaikeyi. If you enjoyed the aspect of following an often villainized woman from mythology in a new story that highlights their own experience, then this is going to be the perfect book for you.
There is no need to be familiar with the Ramayana or mythology of the time and period, but I will say that having read the Ramayana in the past (although it has been a while, so I’m not strong on the details) allowed me to have a better general baseline of what the overarching myth story is and who some of the characters are. I think having studied the Ramayana and myth in college gave me a good background that bolstered my experience, but I promise you’ll get just as much out of this book without any background as well. It’s a beautiful, relevant, and compelling story for anyone.
Kaikeyi is an incredible woman. I absolutely loved watching her grow from a curious, bold child who was constantly held back from her full potential into someone powerful and both willing and able to speak her thoughts to better those around her. Kaikeyi was never necessarily a shy child, but she had her voice taken away from her at many points in her life when the men in her family made decisions for her and refused to let her have her own say. It was such a wonderful experience to see her grow into her boldness and mature into a woman who figured out ways to have her own voice heard and even respected by the men around her. Patel depicted this gradual transition really well while maintaining the core of Kaikeyi’s strong personality from childhood to adulthood. She is a tireless woman and always willing to keep trying to better her circumstances and help others, no matter the consequences.
What we get to explore of the setting is vibrant and exciting, but I do wish we had gotten to explore a bit more of this world than the briefer snapshots that are incorporated. I think the amount of the world that was explored was just enough for this story and I have no qualms with the world-building itself, only that it was so well-written that all I really wanted was even more.
Kaikeyi has a slower paced plot, but still had its moments of higher action and intensity. I will admit that I struggled a bit with the first hundred or so pages of this book, as it took me a while to really find myself invested in the story and connect with Kaikeyi. I wasn’t sure if I would end up fully clicking with this story, but fortunately there came a point where I suddenly found myself glued to this book and could not stop reading or thinking about Kaikeyi and the characters surrounding her.
Patel’s writing is beautiful and carefully executed and never felt overdone or overly lyrical in quality. Everything about the narrative flowed well and had an almost minimalist air in the sense that everything felt as though it was purposefully given without ever adding too much or extra that wasn’t necessary, much in the way I described the world-building earlier.
Lastly, I’ll just touch on the mythology aspect of Kaikeyi to say that I think Patel did an excellent job of including so much of the source myth into this story while still making it so much her own story. Patel perfectly captured the magic and atmosphere of a myth story that includes gods and magic and the unknown and made it even more captivating by creating a character as dignified and charismatic as Kaikeyi.
Overall, I’ve given Kaikeyi five stars! If all the praise in both my review and almost every other review I’ve seen hasn't convinced you to check this book out yet, then let this be your official recommendation to go read this beautiful, captivating, and incredible story of Kaikeyi.
*I received a copy of Kaikeyi courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*