Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra is an #OwnVoices Indian, young adult fantasy novel that is the first instalment in the Asiana book series. I was so damn excited when I found this novel because it sounded like it was going to be full of neat fantasy elements and a strong, powerful female protagonist. While it did contain some interesting fantasy dynamics, it ended up being a colossal disappointment in many other ways.
Markswoman is about a young girl named Kyra who is the youngest markswoman in the Order of Kali, which is one clan of sisterhoods amid many that are highly trained, elite warriors. They are armed with magical blades that bind to them, and a strict code of conduct, and are supposed to maintain peace and order. However, for Kyra, peace cannot be attained until she gets vengeance against those who murdered her entire family.
The story has many qualities that made it feel very original and creative, specifically in terms of these clans, yet regardless of those imaginative traits, it ended up following one bleeding cliché after another, which sucked away most of the appeal of those respective inspired qualities.
One of my favourite parts about the book is that the beliefs and cultural aspects that seemed to be the core foundation for the Sisterhoods’ practises and way of life are inspired heavily by a combination Buddhism and traditional Indian tribes that were highly matriarchal. When it talked about meditation using the Lotus position or referred specifically to one of the fundamental ideals of Buddhism, I felt super giddy and excited. I do not believe I have ever read anything that was inspired so much by Buddhism, apart from Dune by Frank Herbert (one group of nomadic people had faith steeped in both Islamic and Buddhist traditions). When you toss in Hindi and Sanskrit words and phrases, you have something that becomes a bit irresistible to me! At least until the big twist occurs, setting into motion the most basic of hero narratives.
The triggering event sends our protagonist Kyra on a quest that is your grade-A Hero’s Origin Story. Person A is struggling through life and having a bit of an identity conflict. Person B steps in and does something that is colossally fucked-up, forcing Person A to make a rash decision in order to “protect” people or disregard them for their selfish gains (like revenge). Sprinkle in some self-righteousness and awkward romance to work as a guiding light, and you essentially have the entirety of Markswoman.
I was craving a twist that would be as original as the creation of the Sisterhood. I needed an element that would set this story apart from every other tale about a person who hates their lives and is inadvertently destined for things outside of their bubble. But it never came. The only thing that kept me going forward in the novel was this desire, this hunger, for something dazzlingly (or darkly) unique. As if this wasn’t enough to make me sad, the overall writing outside of the religious bits, were agonisingly average and terribly tropey.
Kyra began as a strong woman who showed potential, but as she works through her typical self-discovery trek, her strength becomes vastly diminished…before the power of men. This part annoyed me quite a bit. Men are some sort of underdogs in the world of Asiana, as they are oppressed and viewed as the weaker sex. So, on some level I understood the reasoning for making the guys, specifically her romantic interest, a stronger person. Yet, simultaneously, it was so wholly contrived and convenient that I almost through the book out my window. Later in the story, he ends up having to teach her a couple of things, and her progress is never shown. We see her first day with him, and then fast-forward a few weeks or a couple months and suddenly “she’s shown great progress and is ready for her next task.” Are you fricking kidding me? HOW? How, I ask you?
This also applies to the romance. There is no building of emotions or feelings. The feelings the characters inevitably have for one another was the second-biggest shortcoming. The reader is charged with automatically assuming that since the two spent so much time together, them developing a romantic (hormonally charged, more like it) interest is a given. I don’t want it to be a given. I want there to be a stable line of progression with complex emotions and actions and stuff. Convenience has no fucking place in a fantasy, at least not like this and this often.
Furthermore, even with all of these things mentioned, it gets worse. Every character is utterly flat and has no depth to them. The very same can be said about the political intrigue, which works as the Mrs Dash on top of the dry-and-flavourless meat of the main plotline. Speaking of, the plot development itself floats along for an unnecessary one-hundred to one-hundred-and-fifty pages, dragging me through the mud of pointless anticipation. The finale was severely abrupt, as if someone pushed me off a cliff while I was mid-sentence, and this was probably my biggest issue with Markswoman.
Usually with books in a series, there is a specific conflict that is addressed in each instalment that tends to compliment the overarching conflict. This may not happen every single time, but it’s pretty standard for the genre. Markswoman never actually resolves the conflict laid out in the book, at least not all the way. There also isn’t any indication within the narrative that there will be a sequel, save for that finale.
Yes, I’ll have Deficient Endings for 200, Alex! Thank you!
Suffice to say that as it stands I will not be picking up the second novel in the Asiana series. Markswoman is one of the most basic-as-possible and forgettable books that I have read in a long time. I’ve read some bad books, but they at least had something memorable in them for me. This one has zilch. I would recommend this to fans of young adult fantasy, especially because it’s loaded with badass brown-skinned people and warriors, however, in all honesty, there are much better diverse stories out there.