As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

November 19, 2010

BENEATH A MARBLE SKY by John Shors, 2004

Beneath a Marble Sky: A Love StoryIn 1632, the Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, overwhelmed with grief over the death of his beloved wife, Mumatz Mahal, commissioned the building of a grand mausoleum to symbolize the greatness of their love. The story surrounding the construction of the Taj Mahal occurs, however, against a scrim of fratricidal war, murderous rebellion, unimaginable wealth, and, not least of all, religious fundamentalism ruthlessly opposing tolerance and coexistence between the disparate peoples in the empire. . . . Beneath a Marble Sky, narrated by Princess Jahanara, eldest daughter of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, recounts their story, and her own as well, a parallel tale of forbidden love enduring censure and extreme deprivations. Beneath a Marble Sky brims with action and intrigue befitting an epic era when, alongside continuous war, architecture and its attendant arts reached a pinnacle of perfection. (Amazon product description)

Review by Josi Kilpack, Culinary Mystery Author

I am no great scholar and the biggest reason for this is that I am lazy. Hand me a textbook about Middle Eastern history and watch my eyes roll back into my head. I have always learned history and culture best through stories. Give me people to read about; let me see the culture and the time through their trials and triumphs; paint a setting that allows me to feel the breeze on my skin and I am putty in your hands. Such it was when I picked up this book—a debut novel by John Shors.

The story centers around the epic building of the Taj Mahal, but of course, the building isn’t really the story. Instead, the story is that of Jahanara, daughter of the Emperors favored wife who becomes a political mastermind as the story unfolds. In the time and place in which Jahanara lives, women have no rights. They are instruments and bartering chips; servants and commodities. But she rises above these roles and proves her gender’s strenght through her intellect and maneuvering that preserves her nation. Forced to marry, she finds love with the architect of the Taj Mahal; a love that can not survive the time and position of it’s players. Or can it?

The characters are well written and do not steal so much of the show that the education of the culture is lost. The setting and time period of the story is very real and engrossing, but not at the sacrifice of plot. All in all I found the story fascinating, the characters relatable—despite so many differences between my world and theirs—and all of it well written.

My only complaint with the book is that there are a few scenes that were rather raw. While the plot point of such things (a sex scene or two, a marital rape, and other violence) was necessary to the story, I would have preferred a milder telling of it. I’m fairly sensitive to gratuitous sex and violence and felt this one went over the line a bit—but obviously not to the point of my putting the book down which often happens with such scenes. It’s not a book I would recommend to every reader I know, but for many readers the book is worth skimming those few pages.

Market: Adult
Language: Moderate
Sensuality: Moderate with a few intense scenes
Violence: War and a rape
Mature Themes: history, Taj Mahal, women, love, arranged marriage, family, devotion, India

Book formats:
Beneath a Marble Sky: A Love Story (paperback)
Beneath a Marble Sky (hardcover)

To learn more about the author, visit: John Shors

To learn more about the reviewer and her culinary mystery series, visit: Josi Kilpack

1 comment:

Ang said...

Infarrantly Creative sent me, and I’m following you on Google/Blogger. I would LOVE to give this book a read!