With every book I write, I discover something about the culture I’m researching which completely blows me away, often because it’s so unusual and something I’ve never encountered before. In the case of my book, REBEL QUEEN, set in India during the British invasion, the concept of Janam Kundlis struck a chord with me, particularly since Janam Kundlis very nearly played a role in my own life and my marriage to my husband, who is Indian.
Also known as an astrological chart, a Janam Kundli is made by a priest for each child in India. No one is sure when the concept of a Janam Kundli came to be, but as Vedic astrology is several thousand years old, it’s not surprising that my protagonist’s Janam Kundli would have looked similar to my husband’s, even though they were born more than a hundred years apart. A person’s Janam Kundli includes the details of their birth–time, date, planetary alignments. It also includes other things which aren’t so common in the West, such as that person’s probable future career and who they were in their most recent past life (in my husband’s case, a yogi!).
Reading a person’s natal chart is serious business. Once a person’s Janam Kundli is created, they will keep that document with them for life, producing it when it’s time for marriage. Even today, Janam Kundlis are used to make prospective matches between brides and grooms throughout India, where the majority of marriages are arranged. And woe betide anyone whose Janam Kundli declares them to be a manglik, or a bad-luck person. If that’s the case, as it was for the famous Bollywood actress and former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, one of two options are available. You can either marry another manglik, thus canceling out your bad-luck status, or you can hire a priest to conduct a variety of ceremonies that will make it possible to marry someone who isn’t a manglik like yourself. This last option, however, is only available if the non-manglik person’s family finds the risk acceptable. In Aishwarya Rai’s case, her in-laws obviously felt the “risk” was worth it, and in 2007 she married a tree before she married her husband, thereby canceling out her bad-luck in this way.
Why a tree? Well, this was something I very nearly discovered myself when my own Janam Kundli was made. Apparently, like Aishwarya Rai, I too am probably a manglik, meaning marriage for me would most likely end in the divorce or death of my spouse. I say probably because my Janam Kundli was done online. The effect, however, was very nearly the same. Major discussions took place as to whether I would need to marry a tree before the wedding could proceed, or whether my Janam Kundli should be discounted since I am not, after all, Indian, and my Janam Kundli hadn’t “officially” been made by a priest.
In the end, it was decided that my husband should take the risk and go for it. I never had to marry a tree or even choose among a variety of clay urns for my groom. Either option, apparently, is acceptable, as it’s believed that a person’s manglik dosh can be canceled out if the manglik person’s bad luck is spent on the first marriage. Thus, the bride first marries a clay urn or a tree, then either breaks the clay urn or chops down her tree-husband in order to become a “widow” (in some places, the tree is allowed to survive). After this, the second marriage is ready to proceed without a hitch.
There are varying interpretations of this ceremony, and even though it didn’t end up affecting me, a person’s Janam Kundli can alter their destiny, just as I describe in the beginning of REBEL QUEEN. It’s cultural gems like these which make researching historical fiction such a pleasure, and it’s these type of details which I try to include in each of my books. As a writer, my hope is that they pique the reader’s interest along the way, and as a reader, they are the sort of facts which help ground me in another place and time.
It is the end of the nineteenth century and China is riding on the crest of great change, but for nine-year-old Willow, the only child of a destitute family in the small southern town of Chin-kiang, nothing ever seems to change. Until the day she meets Pearl, the eldest daughter of a zealous American missionary.
Pearl is head-strong, independent and fiercely intelligent, and will grow up to be Pearl S Buck, the Pulitzer- and Nobel Prize-winning writer and humanitarian activist, but for now all Willow knows is that she has never met anyone like her in all her life. From the start the two are thick as thieves, but when the Boxer Rebellion rocks the nation, Pearl's family is forced to leave China to flee religious persecution. As the twentieth century unfolds in all its turmoil, through right-wing military coups and Mao's Red Revolution, through bad marriages and broken dreams, the two girls cling to their lifelong friendship across the sea.
Anchee Min's Pearl of China is a heartwarming tale about the friendship of two girls —— a country bumpkin (Willow) and a white-skinned, blue-eyed Chinese (Pearl). The fates of these two have been entwined since young, when Pearl's father (Absalom) came on a mission to spread gospel in a small town called Chin-kiang. Willow's father was poor and though he first embraced Christianity and became Absalom's sidekick for physical sustainability, he gradually became a staunch believer and promoter of his faith, attracting the masses and converting many people in his life.
Willow and Pearl's friendship spanned throughout their whole lifetime, creating a wonderful memoir of timeless friendship against the backdrop of Mao Tse Tung's reign and fall in China. It was interesting that Min inserted a love story between Pearl and Tsu Chih Mo, a legendary contemporary poet who was known for his constant pursue of love and romance, and had Willow playing the stuck-in-the-middle person. Willow had her eyes on Tsu, but Tsu's eyes reflect only Pearl's image. Willow, albeit initially wallowed in jealousy, finally decided to give her blessing to her favourite man Tsu and best friend Pearl. She became the lovers' middle-woman, giving the pair a chance to rendezvous.
From the beginning till the end, Pearl was by heart a Chinese, she loved Willow as a sister she never had, and Willow loved Pearl dearly against all odds. Fine as this story was, I think Pearl of China lacked a certain oomph factor that makes a good book a great book.
Against all odds, 17-year-old Gene has survived in a world where humans have been eaten to near extinction by the general population. Every decade there is a government sponsored hunt. When Gene is selected to be one of the combatants he must learn the art of the hunt but also elude his fellow competitors.
For once things are different - in The Hunt, humans are now known as hepers are close to extinction and are hunted down or bred as food. And the others, the ones who dominate the world, are those nocturnal human-like cannibals who somehow exhibit vampiric features. It's certainly a fresh twist, and a horrific, heart-gripping one at that.
Blending in with the predators has been how Gene kept himself alive for the past 17 years. He still remembers the warning his father gave him: don't exhibit any facial expressions, use some special formula to cover your body odour, and whatever you do, don't stand out of the crowd.
A fellow predator girl with flaming red hair - Ashley June, caught his eyes. He controls himself, though. Distances himself from her. No good can come if your girlfriend eats you up for breakfast, right? But there's more to Ashley June than meets the eye.
When both are selected for the Heper Hunt, Gene must overcome all odds to stay alive. And that proves to be a more challenging task than he ever thought.
This pacing of this novel is quite good, given that most of the events are focused on the days before the Heper Hunt. I really appreciate the author's unique storytelling that keeps me seated until I finally finished the story.
Somehow I loved this novel. Though some parts of it are illogical, put in mind that this is a fantasy young adult novel, so do not expect everything to be explained rationally. Nonetheless, I hope the author will give a layout of the history/background of how the cannibals came to be in the next two books.