(This review has been copied to the Gossamer Court's book reviews section.)
"Rani of Rampur is a fast paced story of a young journalist, Rani who travels to her ancestral home in the Indian village of Rampur, in order to meet her estranged aunt's family. While helping her aunt plan a family wedding, Rani encounters political intrigue, murder and even supernatural forces at work. How she survives the challenges which are many, to protect those she holds dear, forms the core of this story."
Rani of Rampur, by Suneeta Misra, is an approximately 200-page mystery/drama depicting fictional characters, but heavily weighted in factual aspects of Indian culture and society. I received this book for free in return for providing a non-reciprocal, unbiased review. I am not one for providing detailed summaries in reviews, so I will delve directly into my thoughts (if you do desire a synopsis, one has been provided on the book's Amazon sales page).
I must say that I enjoyed the setting of this book, but I admit I may have some personal bias in that department. I studied Asian history and culture extensively in college, and though my focus was on Japan, one cannot learn certain facets of Japanese history without learning Chinese history, and one cannot experience much of western Chinese history without influence from countries such as India. I haven't immersed myself in such a setting for some time, so this book was welcome in that respect. I won't hold my own shortcomings against the author however, when I further admit that my expertise with names and pronounciation also lies further east than India, so I did have a trivial amount of trouble keeping characters straight in this book (which did not dissuade me from enjoying it).
Rani of Rampur is essentially a young woman's struggle against classic, "bad guy" evil on the cusp of a society in a state of social change. Misra does a commendable job of weaving together both sources of antagonism -- there's murder most foul for Rani to deal with, while at the same time a clashing of progressive versus traditional culture. Despite the length, Misra takes her time weaving a careful plot, as well as developing the main character into somebody I felt I could relate to. I can't stress enough how important something like this is, at least to me. If I am not given the opportunity to care about characters in a story, then it won't matter to me what happens to them and overall I will find a read to be boring. That was not the case, here. I was really able to get into Rani's feelings and thinking. It's possible some may think the story ponderous at times, but I appreciated a well-rounded tale.
I have seen this book classified as a mystery. I can see that to a point, but I thought of it as more of a drama. There's definitely a mystery there to be enjoyed, but I felt that the cultural aspects of the book were more of a centralized theme.
I can say that Rani of Rampur felt "real" to me. Most everything in this book I can see happening in real life one way or another -- I didn't have any "oh c'mon, that's stretching it" moments. The book is well written and edited to the point that it is clearly not just a fly-by-night "I wanted to write a book" thing. Misra is a serious author, with a title such as this under her belt.
If I were to say anything negative about this book, it would be that a reader who has little to no interest in the cultural aspects of the book might not have enough to go on with just the mystery aspects to enjoy themselves. Misra does an fine job of keeping things clear and understandable (at least she did for me), but if familial power struggles with an ethnic feel aren't your cup of tea, you might have a tough time here. All in all, that didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book. Rani of Rampur is a unique tale that I would recommend to a fiction reader that also wants to learn a few things about another culture.