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“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 worthy. Yet she watches as her father unceremoniously banishes her mother, listens as her own worth is reduced to the marriage alliance she can secure. And when she calls upon the gods for help, they never seem to hear.

Desperate for independence, she turns to the texts she once read with her mother and discovers a magic that is hers alone. With it, Kaikeyi transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most favored queen.

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.

The unforgettable tale of a woman determined to leave her mark in a world gods and men dictate the shape of things to come. "Patel's mesmerizing debut shines a brilliant light on the vilified queen from the Ramayana"
(Publishers Weekly, starred review).

478 pages, Hardcover

First published April 26, 2022

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Vaishnavi Patel

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,117 reviews
Profile Image for Vaishnavi Patel.
Author 5 books1,026 followers
Want to read
March 10, 2022
I was encouraged by some readers to share a bit of information about Kaikeyi here that readers may be curious about. I believe Goodreads should stay a platform for readers, so I'll be continuing my policy of avoiding this page after posting this.

Kaikeyi began many years ago, as I listened to my Aai and Ajji disagree about the character of Kaikeyi in the Ramayana. I’m so grateful I can share this brave, determined, and ultimately flawed character with you. I know that some people will read this book and be curious about my relationship to Hinduism or yes, even be angry about my portrayal of Hindu figures. I am a Hindu. It’s the religion that I love. I do not believe it to be above criticism, and I’ve written more about that here if you're interested. My Hinduism is one that can be critiqued, put through the wringer and come out stronger for it. I wrote this book for the Hindus who question their place in this religion because of patriarchy or fundamentalism, and for myself, because I love my religion and want to see it become better.

If you’re curious about my research, I have written more about some of my foundational sources in Kaikeyi's Author’s Note, as well as a bit about some of the changes I made from the plot of the original Ramayana. There are truly too many changes to name, as this is not the Ramayana you might have read or heard growing up. These changes are often, but not always, in service of the plot--it was important to me to establish that Kaikeyi is a "what-if" style alternative rather than a faithful retelling of Valmiki's Ramayana from someone else's perspective. If you want to have a conversation about Kaikeyi I am more accessible on Twitter than here.

What I love most about Hinduism is its ability to contain multitudes of stories, opinions, and contradictions. I love Kaikeyi and its world. But I also love the Ramayana and its original heroes. Part of me will always be the kid who loved the Diwali story of Rama’s homecoming (who am I kidding, it still brings me to tears!). It’s an absolute honor to add my voice to the long list of the Ramayana’s many reimaginings. Thank you for reading.
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.6k followers
May 24, 2022
i knew nothing about the ramayana before reading this.

but now i want to know everything.
Profile Image for Dr. Appu Sasidharan (Dasfill).
1,265 reviews2,439 followers
November 5, 2022
This was one of the books that I was most excited to read this year. I am a person who loves to read and reread epics like Mahabharata, Ramayana, and also books like Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. I am also very fond of reading epic retellings. രണ്ടാമൂഴം Randamoozham by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni are a few among my favorites. Some of my favorite authors loved this book and congratulated the author for the progressive way she wrote it. The hype and publicity given for this book were also very high. When I came to know that a young law student from the Midwest is the person behind this retelling, I became more curious to read it.

I picked up the book to read as soon as I purchased it. All excitement was gone as I read about 200 pages of this book. This might be an epic retelling, and I appreciate the author's right to add additional subplots and alter the storyline of the actual book. But this one totally went wrong, and some mistakes in the story make this book lackluster.

When you are writing a book from the perspective of a negative character from an epic, you should be very careful to handle the character in a mature way. One small mistake can destroy the whole book sometimes. I can say that the author didn't show this maturity in many parts of this book. How the author portrayed Rama's character will make many readers angry. This will hurt the religious sentiments of many people and has the propensity to cause a lot of controversies. The author might have known about the repercussions of this characterization as she hails from the Indian diaspora. In my opinion, she bravely took a risk that sadly backfired.

I decided to DNF this book after reading 200 pages due to the inconsistencies in writing (it is brilliant in some areas and terrible in some other areas). Still, I completely read all the 496 pages as I badly wanted this book to succeed as I can clearly see the hard work and the research the author did for this book.

The biggest problem in this book is that the author uses the negative character in an epic to criticize the central characters by blaming them for patriarchy and grandiosity without considering the time period in which it was written and the societal standards people followed at that time. She uses the current political correctness to criticize an epic created thousands of years ago. I think that is the biggest disgrace you can do to a book, especially an epic.

In order to create sympathy towards some negative characters like Ravana and many others, she focuses on the small positives in them by totally discarding their more extensive negative qualities. Ravana was a rapist who raped Rambha, the queen of apsaras. I know about the author's liberty to do whatever they like to do in their creation (even if it is a retelling of an epic). But talking about political correctness on one side and doing this on the other was a little difficult for me to digest.

I went back and rechecked the reviews of various authors who recommended this book. There was a similarity among all of them. They were all unfamiliar with Indian tradition and Ramayana. If they knew more about Ramayana (the original book on which this book is based), I doubt whether they would have given a high rating for this book and recommended it.

By general standards, books like these shouldn't affect religion or their followers as it is an author's personal literary creation, and people have common sense and are progressive enough to understand it. But after watching the severe Islamophobia that developed worldwide in the early part of the 21st century, we have to say that most people haven't progressed the way we expected them to. Social media, according to us, should make people closer. But it sadly acted as a catalyst to increase these phobias. So the authors should be cautious when writing novels like these as it has the propensity to act as a catalyst to create a global Hinduphobia among a few people that can cause devastating consequences.

If you are a religious Hindu without a progressive mindset, I suggest you to avoid this book as it might severely hurt your feelings. If you are a person who just wants some entertainment, you can try this book, keeping in the back of your mind that the author has taken her liberty to alter this retelling in her own way, and real Ramayana is different in many ways compared to this one.

I loved the author's courage at a young age to retell Kaikeyi’s story in one of the most challenging ways possible, which even many established authors won't dare to do. But sadly, things didn't work the way she wanted to. So I can't give more than two stars to this book. Even though I wouldn't say I liked this book, I liked the author's writing style in a few parts of it, and I am looking forward to reading her next books as I think she has the potential and courage to write great books in the future.
Profile Image for Baba Yaga Reads.
108 reviews1,696 followers
January 9, 2023
I’ve seen many readers compare this book to Madeline Miller’s Circe, and while I don’t think they’re wrong, I personally found it a lot more similar to Christa Wolf’s retelling of Medea. Both books feature a much-maligned mythical queen who leaves her home to marry a foreign ruler, works to make her new country more progressive and feminist, and is ultimately brought down by the Evil Patriarchy. Most importantly, both novels are determined to make their infamous protagonists out to be unflinchingly, unambiguously Good.

In giving the original myth a feminist spin, Wolf and Patel decide to turn their heroines into innocent victims of patriarchal violence who desire nothing but the common good, are tirelessly loyal to their country, and would literally rather die than harm another human soul. One could argue this approach succeeds in making them sympathetic to the reader; I, however, am inclined to think it makes them less complex and ultimately, less interesting.

Simply put, I do not need a woman to be perfect in order to root for her. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’m totally okay with my fictional heroines being flawed, selfish, even cruel, if this makes them more compelling and realistic. Personally, I don’t go into novels looking for moral lessons, or examples of righteousness; I read them because I want to be entertained, moved, and inspired by stories of fictional people. I want to be able to relate to the characters’ humanity, and as a woman, it’s really hard for me to relate to women who are practically perfect in every single way.

Maybe Kaikeyi’s Goodness wouldn’t have bothered me so much if the other female characters had been written with more nuance. Instead, every single woman was portrayed as unfailingly good, kind, generous, forgiving, strong-but-not-violent… you get the gist. I understand that Patel was trying to make a point about female oppression; still, I’d argue that making all women out to be flawless angels is just as sexist as demonizing them. Women don’t deserve equality because we are better than men, we deserve it because we are people. We deserve to be recognized as complex, flawed humans who have no obligation to save the world from the patriarchy.

After all, this is the reason generations of female readers have latched onto controversial figures like Medea, or Kaikeyi: they are powerful anti-heroines who are allowed to be just as messy and morally gray as their male counterparts. What some modern authors don’t seem to understand is that people love them because of their flaws, not in spite of them. They are relatable because, when trapped and marginalized by a sexist society, they asserted their power with the only tools they had access to.

Or maybe I’m just too much of a bad woman to appreciate a book about a queen who has never done anything wrong.
Profile Image for Jananie (thisstoryaintover).
290 reviews13.8k followers
January 16, 2022

KAIKEYI has truly become my favourite book of all-time ✨ Not only does Vaishnavi Patel do wonders with the source mythology—bringing vilified and heroic characters alike into new lights—but she weaves the most fascinating and empowering story of a woman looking out for other women, of motherhood, of the danger of unchecked misogyny and patriarchy. I felt so deeply for Kaikeyi and the empathy and resilience she possessed. She goes down as one of the most well written and complex characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The friendships and bonds within this book will stay with me for years to come and I hope that this book will take the place on shelves among other greats.
Profile Image for Srivalli Rekha.
Author 17 books308 followers
November 20, 2022
ETA: I didn't find the need to update my review, but it needs to be done.

Here's a link to Anti-Hindu Disinformation: A Case Study of Hinduphobia on Social Media presented by Rutgers. I urge you to download the PDF and read when free.

Link to Cyber Social Swarming Precedes Real World Riots in Leicester: How Social Media Became a Weapon for Violence

The most common trend is to dismiss the concerns and instances of attacks on Hindus by calling them BJP/RSS affiliates, RW (right wingers), Hindu Nationalists, bhakts, and even use derogatory terms like gau mutra drinkers (cow-piss drinkers), illiterates from cow belt (nevermind that they have post-graduate degrees from leading universities).

Dismissing one's experiences as an imagination or theory of a political party (when the people are not remotely associated with any party) is a sign of Hinduphobia. A simple rule, if you haven't faced it, you have no right to deliver judgments from your safe spaces. It's not going to help if you go to a dead person and say, 'oh, I don't think you died.' Same here.

Your opinions are yours, not facts. And if you already say you know little or nothing about a topic, please don't give us gyan. For one last time, Indian right is NOT EQUAL to Western right. Indian right is indigenous. Hindus are pagans, non-Abrahamic. Western right is Abrahamic, Christian. Don't create false equivalences because you don't understand the basic concepts.

*Long Review Alert*

1.5 Stars

One Liner: A colonized retelling written for the Western and west-aligned audiences.

Let me first share how the rating reached 1.5 stars.

• The first 30% - 4 stars despite the slow narration and the feeling of reading about Medieval European kingdoms rather than an Indian setting.
• The book up to 55% - 3.5ish stars as things got repetitive and the colonial influence was beginning to become prominent. (Also, the story deviated too much from the original.)
• The book up to 70% - 2.7 stars because Sita’s introduction read like something from a regency novel, and Sita’s characterization was horrible.
• By the end of the last page – 2 stars still because I’m not new to this kind of portrayal of Rama promoted by a certain ‘intellectual’ crowd.
• The next morning - 1.5 star as the patterns become clear. The retelling is much more than just another perspective. It fits like a perfect puzzle piece in the global anti-Hindu narrative to normalize Hinduphobia, given the target audience.

Note: Just as the author has FoE to write her perspective, I have the FoE to dislike it and express my opinion. I know this is beyond comprehension for some people but try to get used to it.

Please read the working definition of Hinduphobia to get a better idea.
“Hinduphobia is a set of antagonistic, destructive, and derogatory attitudes and behaviors towards Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) and Hindus that may manifest as prejudice, fear, or hatred.
Hinduphobic rhetoric reduces the entirety of Sanatana Dharma to a rigid, oppressive, and regressive tradition. Prosocial and reflexive aspects of Hindu traditions are ignored or attributed to outside, non-Hindu influences. This discourse actively erases and denies the persecution of Hindus while disproportionately painting Hindus as violent. These stereotypes are used to justify the dissolution, external reformation, and demonization of the range of indigenous Indic knowledge traditions known as Sanatana Dharma.
The complete range of Hinduphobic acts extends from microaggressions to genocide. Hinduphobic projects include the destruction and desecration of Hindu sacred spaces; aggressive and forced proselytization of Hindu populations; targeted violence towards Hindu people, community institutions, and organizations; and, ethnic cleansing and genocide.”

Source: Understanding Hinduphobia


Summary based on the blurb from Goodreads:

Kaikeyi is the only daughter of the Kekaya kingdom and the third wife of King Dasharath of Ayodhya. She is also a girl who grew up being ignored by her father and learning to care for her brothers when her mother was banished from the kingdom. Even her marriage was nothing more than an alliance between kingdoms.

However, Kaikeyi grows up to become an independent woman, a warrior, diplomat, and the most favored queen. She’s a powerful queen and a loving mother. But her one wish turns the world upside down and makes her a villain. Is that all there is to her?

What is it about her life that we don’t know? What is Kaikeyi’s story?


The cover and POV were enticing enough for me to request an ARC though I am wary of retellings of Indian epics. I should’ve paid more attention to the blurb. I mean, those who understood Ramayana would know that Kaikeyi is a warrior queen and the favorite wife. She is also more of a mother to Rama, though Kaushalya is his birth mother. Kaikeyi was never sidelined. She was right there in the middle, always.

I’ve never hated her or been told that she is the evil stepmother. Kaikeyi, to me, was the only one capable to set things in motion. Rama is Kaushalya’s son, and she wouldn’t ask for her child to be exiled.

Sumitra is the second wife of Dasharath and gets minimum importance from all sides. She neither enjoys the privileges of Kaushalya nor Kaikeyi. In fact, Dasarath gives the kheer after yajna only to Kaushalya and Kaikeyi. The two ladies feel sad and share a portion of their kheer with Sumitra, and thus she has twins. It’s no wonder that her sons, Lakshmana and Shatraguna are closer to Rama and Bharath, respectively, rather than sharing the close bond twins usually have.

Why would Dasarath even bother if Sumitra asked for Rama's exile? She’d be exiled instead. Kaikeyi is the only one who has enough grit, command, and control to make it happen. She is an obvious choice. And why does Rama have to be exiled?

If he stayed in Ayodhya as a king, he wouldn’t be able to kill the thousands of Rakshasas in Dandakaranya or put an end to Ravana’s atrocities.

(Moreover, Ravana is an incarnation of one of Vishnu’s guards in Vaikuntam. When cursed for not doing their duty properly, the guards chose to take three births as evil kings so that Vishnu would arrive to kill them.)

If Rama wasn’t exiled, he wouldn’t be able to meet Sabari, the old devout who waited all her life just to get a glimpse of her beloved God. Kaikeyi got the raw end of the deal when she’s chosen to change the narrative, yes. But she was the only one strong enough to carry the responsibility.

When I picked this book, my expectations were that the book would explore the grey areas, look at the intricacies in the epic; not create a black and white scenario by reversing the roles of Rama and Ravana. I would have appreciated even the role reversal if it was an original idea. It is a brave thing to do, after all. Alas, the concept is neither original nor fresh. It’s a part of a larger narrative being introduced to the world at large for a while now.

To see that the book with so much potential turned into a colonial narrative retelling to suit the established anti-Hindu global narrative is painful.


What I Liked:

The concept of the Binding Plane was fantastic. I loved reading about the threads, how Kaikeyi learned to use them, and the way her powers grew over the years.

I enjoyed her interactions with Yudhajit, her twin brother, and Manthara, the maidservant who takes care of Kaikeyi.

Kaikeyi’s asexuality was subtly handled. It isn’t the major focus of the book but weaves in and out of the narrative to establish her relationship with Dasharath and his wives.

What Didn’t Work for Me:

Retellings are a fine balance between staying true to the original and bringing in a new perspective. This book has quite a lot of additions and changes. It is much different from the original (though there are at least two dozen versions, not counting contemporary retellings). While I liked some, the others didn’t work too well.

The book was 432 pages long and was slow. The narration just didn’t seem to move ahead, given that there’s a lot to read about Kaikeyi’s childhood, her thoughts and feelings about herself and others.

While I appreciated the concept of feminism, I didn’t like how the epic was interpreted and represented from a colonial lens. Hinduism is a non-Abrahamic religion with Gods of different genders. Why would Gods be annoyed that Kaikeyi wants a better place for women in society? Why would Maa Shakti sit and smile if another God said women should bow their heads and do what they are told? She’s more likely to burn down the universe in reply.

Sita is neither a millennial nor Gen Z. She is an incarnation of Maa Lakshmi herself (not some God-touched little chit). Reducing her to some anxiety-ridden, confused, helpless wife of a power-hungry prince (Rama) is the worst characterization. As such, I’m annoyed with how the TV shows and movies make her cry buckets in Lanka. This one made that look respectable in comparison.

Lakshman is the younger brother of Rama, and Sita is his older brother’s wife. He will never ever address her by her given name, even when talking about her to another person. She will never be just ‘Sita’ to Lakshman. In our households, siblings don’t refer to their older brothers’ wives by their names. It has to be accompanied by terms like Bhabhi or Vadina (etc.).

The duration for exile was 14 years. Fourteen. Not ten. It can’t be a typo if it is repeated more than once.

As far as I know, Rama’s gurus were Maharishi Vashistha and Brahmarshi Viswamitra. Sage Vamadeva Gautama wasn’t one. And, Ahalya turns back from stone to a human when Viswamitra takes Rama and Lakshamana to help kill Maarich and Subhahu. It doesn’t happen during Rama’s exile.

The Jain version of Ramayana says Sita is Ravana and Mandodhari’s daughter. However, when astrologers predict that she will bring Lanka’s downfall, Ravana orders to get rid of her. The servants instead put her in a box and bury her in the earth. Nowhere does Ravana know Sita is his daughter or have maternal feelings for her.

In fact, there’s another version of Sita coming from Lanka. She is an incarnation of Vedavati, a pious woman who Ravana tried to molest. She burns herself, and Ravana collects her ashes in a box. Mandodhari finds the box of ashes and realizes the impending danger. She gets the box buried, which reaches Mithila with Sita inside.

Ravana had to be killed not because of his inventions (a typical colonial view). It was because he lost the reasoning to distinguish between right and wrong.

Ravana was a scholar, 100% true. But he was also a rapist. I’m sorry I can’t be a ‘rebel feminist’ and declare my love and support for him (I already have ‘friends’ who do that). Showing Ravana as some sort of progressive ruler while ignoring all the women he assaulted and kidnapped for personal pleasure doesn’t sit well with me.

The portrayal of Rama as a manipulative, misogynistic, narcissistic, war-loving prince aligns with the misinterpretations shared by the ‘famous’ Audrey Truschke, a so-called scholar of Hindu Studies. How can someone with missionary parents, in-laws, and husband, who spent every waking hour converting idolaters to Christianity, teach Hindu Studies without bias? Her misinterpretations and role in the Global Dismantling Hindutva Conference are not unknown.

Even if I ignore this, what I cannot forget is how this representation affects young Hindu students. When Hindus are branded terrorists by Hinduphobic associations for not toeing in line, when ‘Jai Shri Ram’ is projected as a hateful war cry, a Ramayana retelling with Rama as a war-loving and manipulative prince is like adding fuel to fire. Readers who have no idea about the original will not think twice about attacking Hindus for worshipping Rama.

(Don’t even tell me it won’t happen. I’ve seen enough idiots who use fictional retellings and dramatized movies/TV shows to assert their points as ‘facts’.)

More Incidents that are Different from Ramayana:

Ravana and Kaikeyi don’t meet. They don't have such friendly conversations. Kaikeyi’s mother being Ravana’s Minister of Finance in Janasthana is not mentioned anywhere.
Mandodhari doesn’t die before Rama and Sita marry. In fact, she lives long after Ravana gets killed by Rama. She marries Vibheeshna (Ravana’s brother who takes the throne) to assist him to manage the kingdom.

Raja Janaka (Sita’s father) was a Rajrishi (as in a king who is a rishi or gyani). Mithila had different traditions and cultures compared to Ayodhya. Sita grew up to be a strong woman because the rules were less rigid in Mithila, and she is the daughter of the earth.

Sita’s swyamvar contest was to lift the mighty Shiv Dhanush and string it. Not to hit any target (like it was in Mahabharata). Moreover, Rama’s family doesn’t travel to Mithila in advance. They go after Rama wins the swyamvar. Rama and Lakshmana go to Mithila with Brahmarshi Viswamitra.

The concept of the Rama avatar was that Vishnu would take birth as a human. It means he would make the same mistakes as humans and suffer like us. Maa Lakshmi joins him as his wife because she doesn’t want to stay apart from him for longer than necessary. That puts her in the same place as humans, and she has to go through her share of suffering. Rama doesn’t think he is God or act like one. He becomes a God after the avatar ends. There’s a difference.

I could go on and on, but I choose to end it here. Though I love the concept of Binding Plane, the rest of it spins out of control. The main reason I picked the book was to read how Kaikeyi’s view was presented. I am left with immense dissatisfaction.

Thank you, NetGalley and Redhook Books, for the ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.


P.S: A part of me wanted to not review the book, but I decided it needs to be done. This is the longest review I’ve ever written. If you've read the entire thing, thank you. I appreciate it.


PPS: Can someone please make it easier to format review on Goodreads? Please!
May 9, 2022

In the Indian epic, The Ramayana, Queen Kaikeyi is portrayed as a jealous queen who wants her son Bharata to ascend the throne of Kosala and uses the boons granted to her by her husband King Dasharath to send Rama , the eldest of Dasharath’s sons and first in line to the throne, into exile . She is , therefore, labeled a “villain” as is her trusted maid, Manthara who is instrumental in fueling Kaikeya’s jealousy and convincing Kaikeye to make use of her boons to further her agenda.

In reimagining Kaikeyi’s story, Vaishnavi Patel adds much depth to this powerful, brave and influential woman who, forsaken by the gods and left to carve her own destiny emerges powerful in a day and age when men rule in accordance with the will of the gods and women are bound in roles defined by age-old traditions and relegated, in most part, to the background. Told in a first person narrative format we follow Kaikeye’s journey from her early years as the only daughter of King Ashwapati and sister to seven brothers in the kingdom of Kekaya to becoming King Dasharath’s third and youngest wife, loving mother to Bharata, her biological son,and Rama, Lakshmana and Shatrugna, Dasharath’s children by his other queens through to the role she plays in Rama’s exile. Kaikeyi, whose mother was banished by her father who for the most part ignored his daughter , finds a way to train as a warrior with the help of her twin brother Yudhajit and masters in the art of meditation after discovering magical powers in the scrolls of ancient texts. She is observant and intelligent and proves a worth ally and advisor to her husband King Dasharath even in the battlefield where she joins him as his charioteer. Kaikeyi’s bravery on the battlefield, thirst for knowledge, determination to bring about change in the way women of all ranks are viewed and treated , the way she holds her own against the archaic, orthodox beliefs of the sages, her rise to the rank of a minister in the King’s court and ultimately the ‘saciva’ to her King and husband are described with a reverence that is her due. Her agony, when forced to make difficult choices that she knows will vilify her in the eyes of everyone she hold dear, is palpable. Vaishnavi Patel's Kaikeye, the queen, is much more than daughter, sister, wife, mother or villain. She is complex and flawed but she will be seen and heard and in that she is a force to be reckoned with. Her emotions are strong as is her resolve to do whatever it takes to protect her kingdom and her children. Her asexuality is a theme that is explored with great respect and sensitivity as is her bond with her husband.

Kaikeyi’s story would be incomplete without Manthara and I applaud the author for the manner in which she portrays Manthara as a mother figure, guide and confidante. Manthara plays a significant role in showing Kaikeyi firsthand how the women in the kingdom are treated by their male counterparts thereby motivating Kaikeyi to fight for the visibility of women – in the marketplace, in their homes and in the court, an achievement that causes ripples within her own circle but whose impact is felt in lands near and far.

With its vivid imagery, absorbing narrative and masterful storytelling Vaishnavi Patel’s Kaikeyi is a brilliant debut. The very first sentence of the narrative reeled me in and I was completely immersed in Kaikeyi’s story till the very end. I felt nostalgic revisiting these characters and stories. I was constantly reminded of the stories I’ve heard and read as a child. I would recommend this to anyone one who enjoys retellings/reimaginings of mythological stories revolving around strong, female characters and those with an interest in the Indian epics. This novel is brilliant on its own merit though I do feel that knowing a little bit about The Ramayana would enrich the reading experience. While The Ramayana will always be known as the story of Lord Rama, Vaishnavi Patel’s immersive and powerful debut gives Kaikeyi her own story told in her own voice. I look forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Thanks to NetGalley and Redhook Books for the digital ARC of this stunningly beautiful novel in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,747 reviews612 followers
March 8, 2022
Redeeming a villain is tricky, and redeeming the archetypal wicked stepmother can be harder to achieve, as anyone who has read the tale of Snow White from the perspective of the queen will know. It's a balancing act that requires being able to incorporate a fresh and original interpretation whilst at the same time keeping to and respecting the core of the original story, which is always metaphorical.

And you have to do that whilst also resisting the temptation of demeaning the opposite side. And Kaikeyi doesn't.

Like many retellings from the "villainous" point of view, this book has fallen into the trope of doing a reverse job and portraying the other characters that are heroic in the original legend as the less-than-perfect ones, and portraying the characters that are villainous as the good ones. In this case, Queen Kaikeyi from the Ramayan, who uses the boons given to her by her kingly husband to make her own son king and have her stepson the heir exiled. Not exactly all that rare a scenario, even in real history, in the harems of rulers where there's multiple wives. How many wives of the Sultans schemed to have the sons of the other wives disgraced or even killed just so their own sons would inherit, for example? It's not like Kaikeyi's is so especially outlandish a case of mischaracterisation that it merits making her the poor misunderstood little queen who battles the patriarchy and misogyny and toxic masculinity at every turn, in such a preachy, infodumpy fashion that it wears the reader down eventually.

I would have dearly loved it to see the story focus on Kaikeyi's character growth instead of trying too hard to prove the above point by having periodic rants inserted in, and to show us more of the world, because the beginning of the book is quite good, her relationship with her twin brother is heartwarming, as is her dynamic with her maid Marantha, and she is relatable in some ways. I applaud the author trying to make her layered and explain her character flaws fairly, but she should've stayed on that course and extended that treatment to the others, too, because eventually, he who is the hero of the Ramayan, Prince Rama, ends up being not exactly heroic but the schemer whose exile is justified, and the evil villain that is Ravana in the original epic is here a sympathetic character. So, essentially, it becomes a heroes made to be bad and villains made to be good swapping of places, which is a rather unimaginatively lazy way of "redeeming" a character, because it's no better than moving pieces across the chessboard towards the opposite side, when the ideal way is to have us learn and understand why they are like they are. With skill, Kaikeyi could've been made a likable villainess or a layered anti-heroine, which would've been more fascinating to read about, in my opinion.

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Em Lost In Books.
903 reviews1,816 followers
September 7, 2022

First, what I liked about this. Childhood of Kaikeyi, and what prompted her marriage with Dashrath. Kaikeyi as a child and as a young woman was portrayed beautifully. Her mother leaving her husband and the kids, upbringing/grooming of Kaikeyi as future queen, and what made her so tough, it was easy to grasp and understand all that. Her life after marriage, how she slowly won over her peers, and most importantly her initiative to improve the treatment of women in her kingdom was mesmerizing. Author's imagination in these parts was amazing.

Now, what I didn't like. When they say ignorance is a bliss, they're right. I must admit it is my own belief and what I have known/taught/learned since childhood that restrains me from truly enjoying this. I find it hard to accept the representation of Rama. Story's representation of evil as good and good as evil didn't set well with me. Perhaps if I was not aware of the mythology I would have enjoyed it but knowing how it went and how it was told here, this freedom that author took I was unable to accept even after knowing that it is just a story and doesn't change a thing about what I know.

So in my opinion if the reader is unaware of Ramayana, they are going to enjoy it and if they know then it is going to be tough to accept what Rama is in this book.
Profile Image for Jasmine.
260 reviews281 followers
April 27, 2022
Kaikeyi by Vaishnavi Patel is a retelling of the life of the eponymous queen from the Ramayana, an Indian epic poem.

In the kingdom of Kekaya, Kaikeyi is the only daughter among seven brothers. Out of all her brothers, she is the closest to Yudhajit, her twin. Although not particularly close to either of her parents, it still comes as a shock when Kaikeyi’s father announces that her mother has left the kingdom with no explanation.

Seeking comfort in the library's scrolls, Kaikeyi learns she carries a power that will aid her throughout her life, despite her gods forsaken status.

While she is still testing out the boundaries of this power, Kaikeyi’s father informs her that she is to be married in short order. To gain some semblance of control of the situation, Kaikeyi agrees to the marriage on one condition, which her soon-to-be husband swears to uphold.

Upon their marriage, the story follows Kaikeyi as she finds her place in a new kingdom. And as she tries to ease the constraints that dictate women’s lives during these times.

This beautifully written debut is told entirely from Kaikeyi’s perspective. The tone effortlessly shifts from the voice of a young girl to one of a mature adult as Kaikeyi grows older.

At first, I found Kaikeyi to be a bit bland and stubborn, but as she came into her own, she became a much more likeable character. Not that all characters need to be likeable.

I love learning mythology, so learning some Indian mythology was just what I was looking for.

By the end, my heart was pounding, and tears were streaming. I don’t know if this is the last I’ll see of Kaikeyi, but I hope not.

I recommend this to those interested in mythology with a fresh feminist perspective.

Thank you to Redhook Books for providing an arc via Netgalley and a finished copy in exchange for an honest review.

Profile Image for Fanna.
992 reviews533 followers
Want to read
April 29, 2022
finally picking up this book and there's something i really wish to share after scrolling through some reviews for this book: retellings aren't meant to be exactly the same as the original work it's based on or inspired by. expecting it to fit the story or resemble characters of the original clearly means constricting the creativity that retellings can bring.

of course retellings should hold resemblance to the original work which is why i used the word 'exactly'. i just mean retellings shouldn't have a list of aspects from the original they *must* keep the same—anything can change, especially character moralities. anyway, it's important to say that these thoughts of mine does not mean i'm recommending this book without even reading it yet.

➵ when i tell you i have been waiting for someone to write kaikeyi's story, i'm not bluffing. this is going to be so good, and yes to an asexual mc. also, excuse me, the cover is so indian, it makes me happy.
Profile Image for Gillian.
144 reviews198 followers
December 3, 2022
This was a brilliant and intriguing retelling about love, family, sacrifice, power, loss, and determination. This book follows the story of Kaikeyi life and her journey as she becomes a queen and mother. Along her journey Kaikeyi must make sacrifices and decisions that will have a lasting effect on her relationships with the people she loves.

This book was so good! I was completely transported into this fascinating world from the very first page, although the middle of the book slowed down. I felt like I was experiencing every moment along with Kaikeyi. I enjoyed learning about the intriguing world of magic, kings, gods, and queens. The characters are so complex and relatable. I loved Kaikeyi, she is kind, brave, strong, powerful, but she is also stubborn and flawed. I really liked Lakashmana, he is brave, loyal, smart, kind and strong. I also liked Bharata, he is loyal, caring and sweet, although there were a few times I didn't agree with his decisions. I really liked Sita and Kaushayla as well. I liked that the characters are relatable and flawed, each of them are going through their own challenges and hardships. The character development was well done, I loved seeing a different side to the characters including Rama, Kaikeyi, Bharata and Dasharath. The writing and storytelling is excellent. I really appreciated learning about Kaikeyi's life from her own perspective, it was refreshing. It showed me how much a story can change depending on who tells it. Kaikeyi's voice and perspective really shinned throughout the book. The ending was so beautiful and heartbreaking. This book will stay with me for a long time.
Profile Image for Tanaya Deshmukh.
386 reviews30 followers
April 24, 2022
This book feels like it’s trying to clear Kaikeyi’s name. She’s infamous as the queen who brought upon a rift between a father and his sons by sending Ram into exile. The epic portrays characters of Ram, Dashrath, Lakshman, Sita in a good light and characters like Kaikeyi & Ravana in a bad light which is solely based on their actions throughout their lives.
This book seemed to be an attempt to show characters like Ram as villains by cooking up stories of how he called women a whore and whatnot. Ram is shown as a manipulative and immature person not fit enough to rule as a king- this is the justification provided for why Kaikeyi had to exile him instead of her selfish reasons. Ravan on the other hand is shown as a smiling young Rakshas king engaging in playful banter with Kaikeyi. ( I really wish the author would’ve used a different storyline to show what was going on with Ravan parallely rather than his strange meetings with Kaikeyi. It didn’t connect to the plot line and felt forced. ) Ravan being Sita’s father, he had to protect his “daughter” from evil Ram for which he abducted her. At this point the book stopped making any sense to me.
Even though I know the author took some liberties with the epic, this is an outright mockery.
I was really interested in knowing Kaikeyi’s story and was expecting something better than a rant about how she was overlooked all the time and trying to explain her mean nature and wicked thinking. An example is where she treats all sons as equals but then goes to Dashrath to remind him of how Bharath should be made the king. If she really felt all her sons were equal she would’ve never felt the need to see her son as the king. The way the author handled this is comical, and I was wondering why was there even a need to explain Kaikeyi’s actions? She was imperfect and I would have enjoyed reading the perspective of a flawed queen. I would have loved to read about Kaikeyi the way she really was without touching the core of the epic. You can’t make bad seem good and then expect everyone to sympathise. What instead you can do, is talk about the bad and give a fresh perspective to the villain which would be fascinating as well as engaging to read.
You can’t justify the actions of bad characters no matter what you write. The plot started falling on its face for me when this started happening. It was very interesting to read about Kaikeyi’s magic and the concept of Binding plane, her life before getting married and how she was interested in areas where women didn’t dare to venture. But apart from this and the cover, there’s absolutely nothing that works for this book.
Also, if you have read or watched Ramayana and have even a little bit of love for the epic, I would advise you to not read this book as it’ll end up hurting you. I wish I had known this before or paid more attention to the blurb.
My heart breaks for the audience who’s going to read this book without really knowing what the true story is. I request you to please read Ramayana before attempting to read this twisted tale that is being sold as a retelling to appeal the western audiences.
19 reviews43 followers
November 18, 2022
Unfortunately, this book was primarily a disappointment. I really wanted to love it, and it had SO much going for it:

1) Kaikeyi is a beautifully complex character who is traditionally considered the woman who made sure Rama fulfilled his purpose on earth. Yet, frequently, as the tale of the Ramayana is shortened for easy consumption, her character like many is flattened - and in her case flattened into a cookie cutter selfish villain. I'm dying to see a detailed representation of her roots and motivations. (In fact, I'm not even sure we know her name, since the word Kaikeyi is just a derivative from her kingdom of Kekaya meaning daughter of Kekaya.)

2) Vaishnavi is a wonderful writer, keeping a beautiful balance between description and dialogue, between poetry and prose. She holds the reader's attention captive.

3) The magical system Vaishnavi added to the plot was beautifully thought out.

Yet, unfortunately this is where the positives of this book end. Vaishnavi sets out to make a feminist retelling of the Ramayana. Yet her plot construction is weak and she falls for two major issues:

1) Poor research. While Patel clearly did significant research into certain areas of her plot, she fails to acknowledge any of the existing feminist aspects of the characters, or any of the power they possess in the original narrative. In fact, she plainly takes away the existing power and equality in the narrative, just to give back a few bits of it and claim a feminist retelling. A few such points:
- Ahalya who Patel uses as her example of someone treated terribly, in traditional Hindu literature is actually a lesson to the population that sexual assault and rape should not remotely affect the reputation of a woman - Ahalya is considered one of the sapta pativratas the seven purest women in the history of Hindu literature.
- Women in Hindu literature were encouraged to learn how to fight. Kaikeyi is an example, yes, but at various points Sita (also from the Ramayana), Satyabhama (from the Mahabharata), Uloopi (from the Mahabharata) etc are all shown to be well versed in wielding of weapons on a war ground. Patel's decision of remove these skills from women, only to give them back to Kaikeyi in some mistaken portrayal of feminism, is simply an act of taking power away from women.
- Kaikeyi is shown as the only one among her siblings to study the softer arts. While this may be true in Kekaya (I wouldn't know), Hindu itihaasas have long shown that any great man should know all 64 kalas (arts) including even arts that we consider feminine today such as hairstyling, makeup etc. Rama, Krishna, Arjuna etc are all shown to be experts in all 64 arts. To take these softer aspects away from men is also a blow to feminism.

2) She takes the easy way out: reversing the good for bad in an attempt to redeem a character traditionally considered a villain. Hurting good people, and breaking moral codes makes people villains, the beauty of a retelling comes from explaining the characters actions and drawing out sympathy. Maleficent the movie, was a great villain retelling. Patel bypasses the hard work by just changing the rules. Did Kaikeyi hurt good people? Let's fix it. Those people are now bad. Did Kaikeyi break moral codes? Those codes were evil, designed to put her down by evil gods who hate women and commonfolk. She villainizes Rama, and turns Ravana into a sweet, well-meaning friend who was loyal to his wife (Ravana in canon had multiple wives and raped many women).

Ultimately, while I'm sure Vaishnavi Patel's retelling will appeal to those who have never read the Ramayana. Those who have, will likely be turned off and disappointed by her shortcuts. A disappointment made ten times worse by the fact that as a writer, this young woman has genuine talent. I only wish her storytelling could keep up with it.

Thanks to NetGalley for giving me access to an ARC.
Profile Image for aashna.
227 reviews141 followers
January 6, 2022
thank you to netgalley for providing me with an arc!

as a feminist, queer reimagining of one of the most vilified women in hindu mythology, kaikeyi was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and it did not disappoint. this book mentally transported me to when i was a child, listening to my dad tell me the ramayan. because i had heard the epic so many times, i thought i knew what to expect, but there were still twists and turns throughout the book that kept me hooked.

the storytelling was bright and vivid, and the magic system was unique and easy to understand. kaikeyi herself was a wonderful main character and narrator, and it was so fun witnessing her development over the course of her life. the relationships that she had with other characters were written really well and the imagery added another layer to the reader's experience. i wish that the book took us to the end of the epic, but other than that, i barely have any complaints. it's so hard for me to put my feelings about this book into words because i really did love it so much, but this is a fantastic debut and makes me so excited to see more from vaishnavi!
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,206 reviews3,209 followers
October 19, 2022
4.0 Stars
This interesting stand alone fantasy inspired by historical India, drawing from Hindi traditions. The story is rich in character development and world building. The novel centers around a strong female character with a strong voice. I appreciated the themes surrounding equality and the role of women in this re-imagined society. The strong feminist themes surrounding this strong young woman really brought the story together.

I would encourage readers to try this one for yourself if you also love unique fantasy settings and rich cultural settings. 

Disclaimer I received a copy of this book from the publisher.
Profile Image for hiba.
259 reviews376 followers
April 27, 2022

this is an absolutely wonderful debut - honestly a joy to read and made me feel so much.

- kaikeyi is a fantastic protagonist with a strong narrative voice that really absorbs you into her story. the author did a great job in getting us to understand her and sympathize for her.
- the novel takes us through several years of kaikeyi's life - we get to watch her grow up from a brash, determined kid to a fiercely resolute, tough young woman and i loved it.
- the familial relationships were excellently done - i adored kaikeyi's relationships with her sons, husband, fellow wives, and especially her twin brother yudhajit.
- loved how unique the magic was - creative, simple to understand, and we get to learn more about it alongside kaikeyi.
- impressive storytelling for a debut with a beautifully vivid writing style.
- really appreciate the feminist twist to the original myth.

i do have a few issues with the last third of this book - i wish the events towards the end could've been stretched out more and that the author could've taken us to the end of the original epic. i also got frustrated with some of the characters' decisions and reactions, which felt irrational and unnecessarily overdramatic to me (though i can't really blame the author because it was pretty much in line with the myth). plus, i wish certain characters got to face harsher consequences for their actions and that we got more of a payoff for the conflict.

despite all that, i loved reading this book - felt so many emotions, even got choked up at certain scenes.

so if you're into the idea of a feminist, queer retelling of one of the most villainized women in hindu mythology, this is it. highly recommend!

(disclaimer: i went into this book with only a wikipedia-level knowledge of the ramayana so can't comment too much on the changes made to the original myth. do check out hindu readers' reviews).

rep: aro/ace main character

thank you to netgalley and the publisher for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Kiki.
194 reviews8,526 followers
Want to read
December 4, 2021
ok so i’m a little reluctant to say this—don’t ask me why, it’s just a condition of opaque publishing tends to be—but i read this book during a brief stint working in the publishing industry. now listen: i can’t stress enough how absolutely FANTASTIC it is. it’s been a year? more than that? and i’m STILL thinking about it. i’ll be buying a copy when it comes out. i can’t even tell you how good it is so please if you love yourself at all BUY IT. god i’m so excited to read it again.
Profile Image for aditi .
256 reviews
April 30, 2022
I don’t know why Patel even took up this project of retelling the story of the gods she clearly doesn’t hold to a very high standard. This isn’t a redeeming story for a woman wrongly vilified in mythology, this is a mockery of an entire religion and people’s faith, and I wish I’d never read this. If the only way you can make people sympathise with your main character is by altering or completely reversing the character of every figure from the original tale, I question your understanding of it in the first place.

Kaikeyi has never been someone who was sidelined. She was the most influential of the queens, being the only one who could have convinced Dashrath to send his son away for fourteen years, not ten as is the case in this book. There are many errors such as this in the book that are inconsequential to the overall story which only leads me to believe there wasn’t enough research done for this book. Kaikeyi was a warrior queen held in high regard amongst her family and her nation. At least that’s what I’ve been taught. But I understand that it might not be the same for everyone and that is why I was willing to go along with the extremely slow start of this book to see her become that person. But that’s definitely not what I got.

Almost every choice made in this book is questionable to me, to say the least.
The choice to show people worshipping only the male gods when there are a number of goddesses in the Hindu mythology, the choice to include only those stories which show women suffering at the hands of mortal men and gods alike. And while there are plenty of those, there are also stories of women taking charge of their destiny and I’m disheartened to see that Patel chose to ignore all of them. None of the characters in this book are an accurate representation of the original myth. Making Ravana into a sympathetic father who’s being punished by the gods for his inventions is just wrong. While a great scholar and an exceptional devotee of Shiva, Ravana is the original villain of the story. Sita was Lakshmi’s avatar, not some simpering child who couldn’t deal with the fact that she was married to a god. Sita, along with Lakshamana, who was a devoted brother, choose to go into exile with Rama because that was their role in the story. Sita was not Ravana’s daughter and I don’t think many women would take kindly to being kidnapped, which she was. Not taken away by a worried father to a safe home as this book wants me to believe.

Presenting Rama as arrogant, narcissistic, misogynistic, and power hungry is nothing less than deeply offensive. I don’t think any retelling of the Bible where Jesus is the main villain would be received very well. Rama is a god who came to the Earth with a purpose and that purpose involved getting exiled. I just cannot accept a story that wants me to believe that a mortal woman would have the power to control any god or to alter his plans in any way. It doesn’t work within the book’s own logic. Rama in this book is aware of the fact that he is Shiva’s avatar. The gods didn’t just appear on the Earth for nothing. Why would Rama spend any time trying to convince Kaikeyi of anything. If he wanted to rule the nation he very well could have, being that he is a god. Would Patel have me believe that Kaikeyi as god touched has power over the actual god himself? Making Rama this evil caricature just so Kaikeyi would have a reason to exile him and feel justified and Ravana would have to “rescue” Sita from her abusive husband was entirely unnecessary.

Along with all this, its also just a poorly written book. For the first half we see Kaikeyi realise over and over again that women are treated unfairly and its the men who have all the power. The message did not need to take over 200 pages of the book. The Binding Plane started out as an interesting concept and the parts where Kaikeyi figures out how to work that magic were probably the only ones I enjoyed. But even that got boring when it was mostly just her stepping into the plane whenever she needed people to go along with whatever she wanted. It isn’t well paced at all and felt like a drag to get through. I don’t see any growth in Kaikeyi until the end of the novel. She’s the same gullible child she was at the start, her opinions and beliefs changing based on her current company. I don’t understand how this can be a retelling redeeming a “villain” when Kaikeyi isn’t a villain at all.

There are other errors in the story but I’m already over this book and don’t particularly wish to go into every little detail that bothered me. There isn’t much to say in terms of the atmosphere of the story. It hardly feels like its set in India. There’s a lot more to India than just grand palaces, which is all Patel felt the need to describe. This story is clearly written to be consumed and appreciated by a Western audience, which I’m sure it will be.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews8,988 followers
June 17, 2022
I liked this novel’s take on gender and how it centered on a woman striving to make a just world for herself and other women. I also appreciated Vaishavi Patel introducing the question of, what happens if our children are subjected to unjust (e.g., patriarchal) worldviews? How do we proceed if we cannot prevent our children’s exposure to misogyny and other forms of bigotry? I enjoyed reading about Kaikeyi’s bond with Kaushalya, another female character in the novel, and how their relationship represented feminist solidarity in the face of challenges, sexist and otherwise.

That said I found the pacing of this novel really dissatisfying. I felt bored for the first half or so of the book and wished that more happened or that the writing drew me in more. Then, a lot of events happened in the second half of the book that came across as rushed. Furthermore, I found the part where belabored, perhaps because of the heavy foreshadowing or the lack of . As with all books I rate less than four stars I wanted to like this one more!

There is also a lot of interesting commentary about this book and whether it’s a retelling of the Ramayana for western audiences that you can find via the reviews on the first page of Goodreads for Kaikeyi. I’m reading these perspectives to try and educate myself more now.
Profile Image for may ➹.
494 reviews2,069 followers
May 18, 2023
3.5 stars

Rather than the book itself, what sticks with me months after reading this is the experience of reading it, with a close friend who told me about the Ramayana and was so evidently happy to see it being explored in this way. It is so fascinating to compare my perspective on the events and characters (especially in a reimagined version) to my more knowledgeable friend’s. For me, that level of interacting with the text and how invigorating that experience was was truly special.

Kaikeyi shone as the main character of this book. (In fact, it is hard for me to remember anyone else.) I really admire and enjoyed the way that Vaishnavi Patel dove into the perspective of Kaikeyi to present Kaikeyi’s thoughts to offer another way of interpreting the Ramayana. Her relationships with several characters were so warming yet devastating—I found myself heavy at so many points of the story, already knowing that something terrible would befall her and ruin the happy setup. Patel’s writing is gorgeous and emotional, lending the book the same grandeur that I am sure the original story carries.

Personally, I would have preferred seeing Kaikeyi being written without being placed on a pedestal almost, rather than being depicted as flawed but still better than other characters who were the supposed true villains. Though the evident love Kaikeyi had for him added complexity, it was unmistakable that Rama was the villain in this retelling through Kaikeyi’s eyes. I think what saved me was that I had no prior knowledge of the story; for my friend, it was much more jarring to see Rama depicted so harshly. I understand wanting to offer a different lens through which to view a story that vilifies a character, but I think completely reversing the hero/villain roles can cheapen that, and I felt like this book was sometimes a victim of such a reversal without enough nuance.

This is by no means a bad book, in my opinion! Far from it. I think it is great that this book can appeal to so many readers, no matter their level of background knowledge of the source material. While I may not completely love the way it was executed, this book was surely thought-provoking. For better or for worse, it is not the actual content of the book that is memorable for me but the way that I will think about and analyze the content.
Profile Image for K.J. Charles.
Author 59 books8,610 followers
March 20, 2023
A marvellous reimagining of the story of Kaikeyi, evil stepmother of Rama in the Ramayana. I only know the story as an outline, not in the kind of detail that would probably add a lot of richness to the retelling, but that wasn't a problem at all.

This is a terrific, hugely immersive read. Kaikeyi is wonderfully drawn, as is the ancient Indian setting, a world of gods and magic and monsters and warfare and a lot of misogyny. Female solidarity is a huge theme here, between the queens, between Kaikeyi and her most trusted servants, and between the queens and the women their husbands rules. Women lift each other up in a world where men at best fail to support, let them down, abuse them, ignore them, and in which the gods are manipulative for their own purposes and don't give a damn for the lives of individuals (so, kind of like men, then). In particular, Rama is shown to be both an incarnated god and, simultaneously, the result of treating a young man like an incarnated god: without being a bad or ill-meaning person he's disastrously selfish, sucks the independent lives out of people around him, thin-skinned, destructive and wrecks the lives of women. Let's not teach young men that they're gods.

It's very powerful, and really compelling, especially in Kaikeyi's dogged fuck-you defiance of gods and men. She's a strong female character in the good way: she uses soft power all the time and manipulation where she must, she learns to fight but doesn't want war, and she learns to be laser focused on the good of the many, not personal ambition.

Hugely readable, I wolfed it despite the length.
Profile Image for Lisa (NY).
1,548 reviews601 followers
May 1, 2022
After a few uninspiring reads I was yearning to be swept away. And the magnificent Kaikeyi did just that! The novel is a dazzling retelling of the Ramayana with the vilified Queen Kaikeyi reimagined as a brave feminist heroine who seeks to make the world a better place for girls and women. Spellbinding! (The audiobook narrated by Soneela Nankani is excellent.)
Profile Image for gauri.
195 reviews458 followers
February 22, 2022
i had a feeling i would love this and happy to annouce kaikeyi surpassed my expectations. i'm in love with her character. THIS is how you do a reimagining folks!!!!
Profile Image for Ayushi (bookwormbullet).
500 reviews907 followers
May 3, 2022
Thank you so much to Orbit Books for providing me with a physical ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Y'ALL ALREADY KNOW! Vaishnavi Patel is incredible. This book is incredible. I loved every second of this. I don’t even know how to begin to describe how magnificent it was. When the upcoming release of Kaikeyi was first announced in 2021, I was so intrigued to learn that this fantasy would be a reimagining of the life of Kaikeyi, the vilified queen from the Indian epic, Ramayana. Growing up, my knowledge of Hinduism stemmed from learning Indian classical dance and from my mother and grandmother’s stories. Of course, the Ramayana was also one of the epics that I grew up with. From children’s books, to animated films, to live theater performances, I’ve consumed the original story in so many different formats. In Kaikeyi, Patel imagines Kaikeyi’s life in Keykaya and Ayodhya, before the Ramayana takes place. The relationships between Kaikeyi and other characters, such as Yudhajit, Lakshman, Dasharath, and more, were so heartwarming to read about. This story really is a character-based story, highlighted by Kaikeyi’s ability to observe and manipulate the magical bonds that she holds with everyone around her. I rooted for Kaikeyi and her friends and family so hard, even ones I didn’t expect to be rooting for from the original story. This is all due to Patel’s incredible ability to turn the original epic on its head and focus on the unique motivations of each character rather than reusing the black and white dynamics from Valmiki’s story.

All this to say that Kaikeyi is a masterpiece of a novel, and I highly recommend picking it up if you’re Hindu and open to an alternate retelling of Valmiki’s Ramayana. And if you aren’t Hindu, I definitely suggest reading a brief summary of the original epic to become familiar with the characters and story before picking up Kaikeyi. I know that this story is going to sit with me for the rest of my life, and I can’t wait for my mom and grandmother to read it as well.

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