Review: Kaikeyi

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel
Publisher: Redhook
Pub Date: 04/26/2022

Thank you to Hachette audio for the free audiobook copy on LibroFM in exchange for my honest review.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️

GoodReads Synopsis: “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.

A stunning debut from a powerful new voice, Kaikeyi is a tale of fate, family, courage, and heartbreak—of an extraordinary woman determined to leave her mark in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come.

Review: Kaikeyi is told from the perspective of the villainous queen/second consort of King Dasharatha in the Hindu epic story, Ramayana. Kaikeyi explores themes of family, destiny, patriarchy, and courage. I really wanted to love this book, but ended up sorely disappointed. I appreciated the author’s note in the beginning where she explains that this story is more of a ‘what-if’ style alternative than the original story of Ramayana. When I began the book, I went in with an open mind and I was invested in the storyline. I liked the way the author gave us a glimpse of Kaikeyi’s childhood. About half way through was when I started to see issues and disengaged. I tried to keep in mind that this is not going to be close the original story, but I was annoyed with the way that Ram and Sita were portrayed. Both of these characters are well-liked and heroic in the original story, but in this one, the author made these characters the complete opposite. The author said countless times that Ram was arrogant, but it’s not really shown. As for Sita, she made her seem weak, but in the original story, Sita is resilient. In terms of the theme about equality and strong women, I’m all for that, but the way it was presented in the novel didn’t really fit that only Kaikeyi could have those qualities and no other woman could. I ended up rating this two stars and wouldn’t recommend it. I could see how people who are not familiar with the original story of Ramayana would love this story, but those who are familiar with the original story like me won’t enjoy it as much.