Ria and Rani, a street thief and a princess, discover that they are identical twins separated at birth. After growing up as an orphan, Ria is desperate to find out the truth about her family. Rani, a princess craving freedom, is on the hunt for an all-powerful stone that could save the kingdom from war. For each girl to meet their goals, they must switch places.
This is a fast-paced, richly detailed retelling of “The Prince and the Pauper” drawing on Indian and Punjabi culture. The world is wonderfully realized, woven throughout with the celebrations, foods, and stories of Punjabi culture. The setting is vibrant and really transports you, which I love in a fantasy novel. There’s an interesting system of magic, with the country ruled by snakespeakers- people who can speak to snakes and compel them to do their bidding. All other magic is said to have left the empire, but later in the novel we find that flametalkers still exist, leading us to question what other magic may still be alive in the world. I wish the magic system had been explained more fully, but I believe it will be more prominent in future installments in the series.
Beyond the rich world-building, this is a pretty straightforward retelling. We have twins separated at birth: one raised an orphan, one a princess. Of course Rani and Ria each have a male companion that becomes the love interest for the sister. It makes for a pretty predictable storyline and I felt there was overall a lack of character development in the story, in particular for the two boys who become the love interests. Because of that, I found that I really wasn’t invested in the romance aspect of the storyline. Ria and Rani do have distinctive voices and personalities, so it is much easier to feel invested in their stories.
The stakes are high in the story as the country teeters on the brink of war. There’s a ruthless king who is being controlled by a shadowy advisor with suspect motivations and a daring hunt for a stone that could be the key to stopping war before it starts. Alternating chapters, each with their own high stakes story, makes for a swift moving plot.
Overall, this was a fun adventure with a vibrant setting! If you’ve read Sisters of the Snake, let me know what you thought!
CW: child abuse, memory loss, death, torture, mind control