Book Review: Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel

Adult Fiction // Genre(s): Fantasy > Mythology
Release Date: April 26, 2022
Publisher: Redhook (Hachette Book Group)
Format: Hardcover • 475 pages
Rating: 4 stars

Kaikeyi was an out-of-comfort read for me (non-fantasy reader here 🙋🏻‍♀️) so I'm glad book club gave me the push to pick this up. Its roots are based on The Ramayana, an old Sanskrit epic, in which a prince named Rama (who also happens to be an avatar of a god) is exiled by his evil stepmother. I feel like my experience was almost better having not read the original story because I wasn't trying to connect the dots à la Charlie from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" 😂

In her author's note, Patel shares that the idea for Kaikeyi sprouted when her mom and grandmother disagreed over Rama's banishment—one pointed out that Kaikeyi pushed him to realize his full potential, while the other argued that there's no justification for exiling your own child. We can only speculate what her motives were, and I love that Patel played with that narrative. Instead of "evil stepmother," Kaikeyi is a woman rising above the patriarchal society to protect the people in her kingdom.

"I lifted my chin and composed my face
into as haughty an image as I could muster.
If they wished me to be a jealous, faithless, prideful woman,
I would give them what they wanted."

Three reasons to pick up Kaikeyi:

ONE | There's a magical element threaded throughout the entire book—only two or three characters know about it, but it's integral to the story. Very early on, young Kaikeyi learns that she is able to influence her relationships by accessing the Binding Plane. I loved watching her grow that power. Later on, we find out that Rama is able to do something similar—but instead of threads of different colors and textures, they're blue cords. What a visual that evokes differing emotions.

TWO | Instead of romance, it's an arranged marriage turned powerful friendship. I REALLY loved the relationship between Kaikeyi and Dasharath. Though she didn't choose to marry him, he turned out to be really good for her. Dasharath was surrounded by powerful and misogynistic men, but he still respected Kaikeyi and treated her as his equal. They really grew to love each other deeply 😭

THREE | The intricacies of familial love are portrayed so well. This can be detailed in many of Kaikeyi's relationships, but I really felt the push and pull of it between her and her twin brother, Yudhajit. They are born on the same day and made from the same DNA, but she recognizes quickly that she is not afforded the same privileges just because she's a girl. In many ways, Kaikeyi is more competent—from riding a horse, to protecting Yudhajit from the rashaka—but that doesn't matter. The world they live in tells them that Yudhajit is more worthy, and it becomes more of a curse than a blessing. This "power" given to him impacts their every interaction, and even how he chooses to speak to Kaikeyi. So does he ever actually love her? Is it that he really believes he loves her, but his words and actions say otherwise to an observer?

I highly recommend Kaikeyi, especially if you love flawed, complex characters and/or Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles and Circe.

And if you're curious about my spoiler-filled thoughts, I've shared it on Goodreads here!

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