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Our Empire had an abundance of everything- except trust and loyalty.’ says Jahanara. Daughter Shah Jahan; sister to Aurangzeb; wife to none and as aptly titled, lonely Mistress to the (Cursed) Throne.

mistress of the throne Ruchir Gupta, debutant novelist, takes up the mantle of unfolding her life saga. Thankfully, he adds a family tree to clarify the baffling plethora of characters.

Steeped in debauchery & deceit; forbidden lusts & chilling cruelty. The Mughal Empire has always been a source of curiosity and wonder at their culture and their architecture.

However, there is a turbulent atmosphere within the palaces. There is deep insecurity for personal safety; burning ambitions and raging envy that lead brother to kill brother; sister to torture sister and son to imprison father!

Particularly deep chilling moments burst out, surprisingly, not from the blood-lusty men…***Spoiler alert…but from the frustrated and ill-fated women of the Empire. (Raushanhara’s lovers are boiled to death by the creator of Taj Mahal! Equally blood-curdling is the cruelty that drives Raushanhara to roast alive her younger sister’s lover!) Spoiler ends***

In spite of the female protagonist, the men get a fair deal in terms of character development, emotions and bravura. Especially noteworthy, Aurangzeb is not reduced to a sinister caricature. Instead we see his lonely childhood, under the relentless misguidance of NoorJahan. We also see his martial exploits and competent generalship; and yet see him facing constant ridicule from Shah Jahan.

If anything, it made me want to re-read the superb Marathi novel, Shahenshah by N.S Inamdar. (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16204056-shahenshah?from_search=true).

Note: I have not read Indu Sundareshan’s Mughal series. So no scope for comparisons there.

Verdict: Ruchir has evidently researched thoroughly and sifted through emotional depths instead of skimming the surface. Recommended, especially for Mughal era fans and History buffs.