Thursday, June 6, 2024

Review: Goddess of the River by Vaishnavi Patel

Goddess of the River by Vaishnavi Patel
Publication Date: May 21st, 2024
Hardcover. 416 pages.

About Goddess of the River:

"A powerful reimagining of the story of Ganga, goddess of the river, and her doomed mortal son, from Vaishnavi Patel, author of the instant New York Times bestseller Kaikeyi .

A mother and a son. A goddess and a prince. A curse and an oath. A river whose course will change the fate of the world.

Ganga, joyful goddess of the river, serves as caretaker to the mischievous godlings who roam her banks. But when their antics incur the wrath of a powerful sage, Ganga is cursed to become mortal, bound to her human form until she fulfills the obligations of the curse.

Though she knows nothing of mortal life, Ganga weds King Shantanu and becomes a queen, determined to regain her freedom no matter the cost. But in a cruel turn of fate, just as she is freed of her binding, she is forced to leave her infant son behind.

Her son, prince Devavrata, unwittingly carries the legacy of Ganga’s curse. And when he makes an oath that he will never claim his father’s throne, he sets in motion a chain of events that will end in a terrible and tragic war.

As the years unfold, Ganga and Devavrata are drawn together again and again, each confluence another step on a path that has been written in the stars, in this deeply moving and masterful tale of duty, destiny, and the unwavering bond between mother and son."

I adored Vaishnavi Patel's debut Kaikeyi and was so eager to return to her gorgeous and lyrical writing. Patel's writing is just as stunning as it was in Kaikeyi and she manages to once again craft an intricate, captivating, and vibrant world full of gods and mortal alike. Goddess of the River is a retelling of the ancient Hindu epic Mahabharata, this time following the river goddess Ganga and her son, Devavrata. Unlike with Kaikeyi where I was familiar with the Ramayana, I have less familiarity with the Mahabharata, so entering into this particular story was brand new for me, and it has made me even more interested in reading the Mahabharata itself sooner rather than later.

Vaishnavi Patel is doing an excellent job with her Indian epic retellings and Goddess of the River is no different. Although I didn't like this one quite as much as I liked Kaikeyi. I still think it was an extraordinary story crafted from an impressive undertaking. I felt fully immersed in this world and found myself appreciating the ability to experience the mortal world through Ganga's eyes, as well as through the eyes of her son's unique upbringing and experiences. There is a large cast of characters to be aware of that appear throughout this story, and I found it extremely helpful to have some family tree and character information at the beginning of the novel. 

We follow Ganga as she is cursed to become a mortal for as long as it takes her to fulfill the rules set out by the curse. While mortal, she encounters King Shantanu, whom she marries and begins to have children with. After many pregnancies, she gives birth to a son, Devavrata, who becomes another important player in this story. I thought Patel was incredible nuanced and successful in her portrayal of Ganga's many struggles as both goddess and during her rather lonely time as a mortal. Although I may not have always agreed with or related to Ganga, I absolutely empathized with her and could really understand her many difficult choices and actions throughout the novel thanks to Patel's thoughtful writing.

This book is told with many flashbacks and some short moments in which we experience some events from other people's lives via Ganga (that sounds a bit confusing, but it makes sense in the story). I didn't mind the flashbacks too much, but altogether the constant switching between people and times (and somewhat vague time descriptors at the start of each chapter) left me feeling a bit disconnected from the story as a whole. I wanted to spend more time with Ganga and get to know her more. The times with her son started out strong, but over time I felt they became too convoluted and included too many characters to where I began to lose interest and those chapters dragged quite a lot for me. Additionally, I found myself struggling every so often to fully understand some of the more precise details of what was occurring with the backstory and the war that was building up and eventually occurring. I'm not sure if that was my fault for not following along better or if more familiarity with things going into this book would have helped, but it did cause me to struggle a bit at times with my engagement.

Despite these frustrations, Patel's writing is what really makes these books such an enjoyable experience. Her writing flows with so much emotion and a clear connection to her characters that it makes me really feel as though I'm reading something special, and it also allows me to really feel like I can get a glimpse of who these characters are, especially with Ganga. Her writing is never over the top or too flowery, but instead seems to strike a perfect balance between succinct and descriptive and feels completely effortless.

Overall, I've given Goddess of the River four stars! Vaishnavi Patel remains an auto-buy author for me due to her incredible writing that I just can't seem to get enough of. If you like retellings or stories that feature complex woman at the heart of it, then you must give Goddess of the River a read. 

*I received a copy of  Goddess of the River in exchange for an honest review. This has no effect on my rating.*

Buy the book: Amazon |

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