I’ve been trying to sort out how I feel about Third Daughter the past few days. On one hand, I did enjoy the second part of the story and I enjoyed seeing a non-European steampunk fantasy world. The characters were well drawn (if romanticized in the cases of the love interests) and I’m not sorry I read it.
On the other hand… well. Dharia, the alternate reality version of India, seemed very much to me like a white person’s idea of what India is like.
First we have a Princess in the Tower trope with the titled Third Daughter, Aniri. Even though she doesn’t really spend time in her mother’s court or with politics because, as a third child, she doesn’t really need to, she still feels trapped by the conventions of her status and longs to be free. The Princess in the Tower trope isn’t so much of a thing in India, especially in relation to Indian princesses. It isn’t unheard of for an Indian princess to lead an active life or even take part in revolutions. (Related, everyone should read about Noor Inayat Khan. Because she was awesome.) Of course there were likely some princesses who led quiet or secluded lives, but it wasn’t all of them.
I also found it very unsettling that a lot of the Western clothing pieces were named — such as corsets — but any Eastern Indian staples were vaguely described and unnamed. A saree, for example, was described as only a “sweep of fabric across the shoulder” and mentioned as being traditional. Matha patti was only described as a piece of head jewelry that ended in pearl or a ruby on the forehead. Mendhi, or henna as it’s known to Western people, was vaguely mentioned as “having ink done”.
Aniri also expresses some shock that Jungalian men wear jewelry, as Dharian men do not. I found this to be a strange decision in regards to world-building, as Indian men do wear jewelry, or they did in the past.
If you’re doing to write about a steampunk fantasy alternate of India, commit to your setting. An Indian/Dharian character should call these things by their names. Not only should, but I believe they would. I can’t help but wonder why the decision was made to leave these things unnamed. Ignorance isn’t an excuse — it literally only took me a minute to Google “Indian jewelry names” and find a site that described all the various pieces, how they’re worn, when they’re worn, and what they go with.
So why three stars? Well, because I did end up liking the story, at least enough to finish it. I enjoyed the relationship between Aniri and Malik; it progressed slowly enough to be believable. I would have liked to see them butt heads over things, though. Their relationship progression was almost too smooth. I would have also liked to have seen Aniri have some trouble acclimating to Jungalian culture. She has more issue adjusting to the thin mountain air of Jungali than she does taking in the culture of the place.
Still, it’s nice to see a non-European fantasy steampunk novel, and I do plan on reading the second novel. I only hope all of these issues are resolved in the third book of the trilogy.