'A Crown of Wishes', sequel to 'The Star-Touched Queen': Read an exclusive excerpt
Fans of Roshani Chokshi’s spell-binding bestseller The Star-Touched Queen are in for a treat with EW’s exclusive cover reveal and excerpt from the upcoming sequel A Crown of Wishes. The new novel follows Gauri, the younger sister of the titular Star-Touched Queen, on her harrowing quest for freedom.
When Gauri, the princess of Bharata, is captured by her kingdom’s rivals, she can only find help in Vikram, the cunning prince of an enemy kingdom. Unsatisfied with royal life, Vikram offers Gauri a chance to win back her kingdom in exchange for her battle prowess. They set aside their differences and team up to compete in the Tournament of Wishes, wherein the Lord of Wealth promises a wish to the victor. Every which way they turn new trials will test their wit and strength. But what Gauri and Vikram soon discover is that there’s nothing more dangerous than what they most desire.
Below, check out the exclusive cover art and excerpt from A Crown of Wishes, out March 28, 2017.
Excerpt from A Crown of Wishes by Roshani Chokshi
The guards half-prodded, half-dragged me down the halls. The bruise on my cheek burned. I had to fake a flinch when the punch connected. Violence made the guards feel safe, and I needed them to fall for that lull and lie. One moment. One moment of inattention was all I needed. One moment, and I’d catch their pulse with the tip of a blade. I would have my throne if I had to carve a path of blood and bone to get it back.
On my sister’s life, I swore it.
At the end of the hall, steam curled through the gaps in the door. Almond oil clung to the air. I stalled, my heart racing as I inhaled cautiously. The scent lacked a bitter tang. Not poisonous. I exhaled, my chest unclenching.
About a year ago, a far too clever Ujijain soldier had extracted poison from stonefruits and created a venomous mist that reeked of bitter almonds. When we caught him, I promised him land, title, and a wife to make poisons for us instead. He’d agreed and sold out his small battalion. His twin brother had belonged to that unit. We killed them (and him, but only after he’d written down the mechanics of that poisonous mist).
In private, I had mourned them. Not the loss of life, but the loss of love. A sibling’s bond was made of sinew and starlight. If you severed that soul bond, you severed yourself. So I wept for the man who chose to break himself, and for a bond I thought was unbreakable.
Months after I wept for the brothers, I would weep for myself. For thinking the love I knew would not betray me. It was not a sibling bond. But it was treasured. And though it had no bits of sinew and starlight to keep it together, at least it had secrets and shared experience. I thought it was enough.
We reached the end of the hall. Without thinking I placed a hand on the door. A guard quickly brought down his spear, angling his weapon at my wrist.
“What?” I snapped. “Do you intend to watch me bathe?”
“No. But we will be outside to safeguard the livelihood of your attendant.”
“The water must be very hot.”
“Now I’m feeling insulted that you don’t want to watch me. Are you certain?”
“Move,” ordered the guard. He held open the door, not meeting my gaze. “Any sign of distress from the attendant and we will be there.”
I blew them a kiss, grinned when one recoiled, and walked inside.
The bath itself was fine. Luxurious, even. The private chamber boasted walls of gold filigree and the ceiling was a dazzling whorl of stained glass that arched into the shape of a snake biting its tail. Gauzy columns of fragrance spun slowly in to the air, filling my lungs with an attar of roses. For a moment, thoughts of home choked me. Home, with the pockets of wildflowers and sandstone temples cut into the hills, with the people whose names I had come to murmur in my prayers before sleep. Home, where Nalini would have been waiting with a wry and inappropriate joke, her heart full of trust that I hadn’t deserved. But that home was gone. Skanda, my brother, would have made sure by now that no hearth in Bharata would welcome me.
The Ujijain attendant didn’t speak, but she kept her eyes fixed on me. She was fair-skinned, with an upturned nose, thick black hair, and thin lips that barely hid her crooked front teeth. She scrubbed my skin as if she’d find gold beneath it, and I winced.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Do you enjoy scrubbing prisoners?”
I sighed, whispering, “You may be the last person I see before death. Would it hurt to speak?”
When she finished, she held out a clean piece of linen.
“I want my clothes back.”
She shook her head, and I was about to argue when she finally spoke: “As a rule, his majesty, the Rajkumara Vikramaditya, does not allow prisoners to meet him in anything except linen.”
Why did my clothes matter when my audience with the prince was nothing more than a formality before execution? Six full moons had passed and not once had they interrogated me. Ignoring me meant that I had no information worth offering. It meant that they had already decided what would become of me. I’d hoped that perhaps I could convince the prince to join my cause, but if he only wanted to see me in a sheer cut of linen, conversation was not on his mind.
“I refuse to wear that.”
“You have no choice.”
“Is this a rule only for female prisoners?”
“I do not know, Princess,” she said. “You are the first female prisoner.”
“Of course,” I said. “You call the others concubines.”
My hair hung in wet ropes against my back as I slid into the linen sheath. Silently, the attendant led me to an adjoining chamber where the silver walls formed gigantic polished mirrors.
Slender glass alembics filled with fragrant oils, tiny cruets of kohl, and silk purses of pearl and carmine powder crowded a low table. Brushes of reeds and hewn ivory shaped like writing implements caught the light. Homesickness knifed through me. I had to clasp my hands together to stop from reaching out over the familiar cosmetics. The harem mothers had taught me how to use these . . . how to accentuate the wide shape of my eyes and dress them in kohl-dark shadows. How to make my lips look bitten and luscious without appearing painted. I was pretty, but not beautiful. But under my mothers’ tutelage, I learned that beauty could be conjured.
The attendant yanked my chin. She took a tool—the wrong one, I noticed—and scraped the red pigment onto my lips.
“Allow me—” I started, but she shut me up.
“If you speak, I will make sure that my hand slips when I use that sharp tool around your eyes.”
I closed my eyes, trying not to flinch under the attendant’s ministrations. I tried to picture myself anywhere but here, and memory mercifully plucked me from my own thoughts. I was ten again, sobbing because my sister had left Bharata.
Mother Dhina had dried my tears, scooped me onto her lap and let me watch as she applied her cosmetics for the day.
This is how we protect ourselves, beti. Whatever insults or hurts are thrown at our face, these are our barriers. No matter how we feel broken, it is only the paint that aches.
We can always wash it away.
A soft brush swept across my cheek, scattering a fine dust of pulverized pearls across my skin. I knew, from the harem mothers, that the powder could make skin look as incandescent as a thousand mornings. I also knew that if the powder got in your eyes, the grit would make you weep and temporarily rob you of sight.
The scent of the powder fell over me like a worn and familiar cloak. In Bharata, my mothers used to scatter dried jasmine in the silk purses of powder. I inhaled deeply, and I was sixteen again, preparing for the palace’s monsoon celebration. Arjun had said that it was the first time he’d seen me out of the garb of a soldier. He said he’d forgotten all about the moon. Nalini was there too, defiantly wearing the garb of her own people: a red patterned sash around a silk-spun salwar kameez sewn with thousands of moon-shaped mirrors.
A year later, Arjun would say he loved me. And I would say the words back, even though they sat unripe and heavy upon my tongue. I believed him as recently as six months ago, when I tried to take the throne. It was supposed to be a bloodless transfer of power. I remembered the fear of that night, how I had cursed under my breath from the damp press of stones where a handful of my best soldiers and I waited. I remembered the pale bloom of mushrooms tucked into the creases of stone, white as pearls and corpse skins. They were the only things I could see in the dark. I remembered emerging into the throne room. I had practiced my speech so many times that when I realized what had happened, I could summon no other words. But I remembered the bodies on the ground, the lightning breaking the night sky like an egg. I remembered Arjun’s face beside Skanda: calm. He had known.
“Done,” said the attendant, holding a mirror to my face.
My eyes fluttered open. I grimaced at my reflection. The red pigment had crossed the boundaries of my lips, making them look thick and bloodstained. The kohl had been unevenly smudged, leaving me startled and bruised.
“It suits you, Princess,” said the attendant in a mockingly pandering voice. “Now smile and show me the famous dimpled smile of the Jewel of Bharata.”
Few knew that my “famous dimpled smile” was a scar. When I was nine, I had cut myself with a blunt pair of shears after pretending that the wooden sculpture of a raksha was real and that he meant to eat me. Fate smiles upon you, child. Even your scars are lovely, said Mother Dhina. As I got older, the scar reminded me of what people would choose to see if you let them. So I smiled at the attendant, and hoped that she saw a dimpled grin, and not the scar from a girl who started training with very sharp things from a very young age.
The attendant’s eyes traveled from my face to the sapphire necklace at the hollow of my throat. Instinctively, I clutched it.
“Give it,” she demanded, holding out her palm. Her smile was full of daggers. “The Rajkumara will not allow you to meet with him wearing anything other than what he has personally bestowed.”
I stretched out the seed pearls and dangled the sapphire pendant. “There’s no need for me to part with it. See? There’s no dagger, poison or anything.”
“You are full of wiles, Princess, but so is the prince. We do not call him the Fox Prince for nothing,” she crooned. “The Rajkumara will not care for your reasons.”
“I will not give it to you.”
“Unsurprising,” said the attendant. “Jewels are more precious to you than the lives you took.”
I knew I was being childish. I had parted with cherished tokens, but Maya’s necklace was more than a token. It was a reminder of magic woven between the ordinary. Of stories shared beneath crescent moons. The day Maya returned to Bharata, I hadn’t recognized her. My sister had changed somehow. Like she had torn off the filmy reality of one world and glimpsed something greater beneath it. And then she had disappeared, darting between the space of a moonbeam and a shadow. The necklace was a reminder of magic and power, of stories that came true and glorious endings that danced out of sight. I didn’t just want to believe in everything the necklace meant. I needed those reminders. And I would die before I parted with it.
She grabbed at the necklace. Even though her arms were thin, her fingers were powerful. They closed around the necklace, scrabbling at the clasp.
“Give. It. To. Me,” she hissed. She aimed a bony elbow at my neck, but I blocked the jab.
“I will not fight with you. I do not want to hurt you. Stop it or those guards will come in and beat us both.”
“They’d sooner hurt you than me. You are no one here,” said the attendant. Her eyes were bright, as if touched with fever. “Give me the necklace. What does it matter to you? After all you took? Isn’t that the least I can take away from you, one damned necklace?”
Her words gutted me. I took no pleasure in killing, but I had never hesitated to choose my life over another’s. It was easy to imagine that the lives I took did not extend beyond the last shadow they cast upon the ground. The reality was that someone had mourned them, wrung their hands, and stared out windows for their return. I had broken something more precious than life; I had cut apart hopes.
“My apologies,” I said hoarsely, knocking her hand away from my neck. I had been gentle before, careful not to harm the skinny and heartbroken thing standing in front of me. This time she lurched back, shock and fury lighting up her face.
Maybe the girl had lost her lover, or her betrothed, or her father or brother. I couldn’t let myself care. Caring had cost my future. Believing in the best of someone had robbed my throne and damned all I had held dear.
The attendant lunged forward, and I reacted. Hooking my foot behind her calf, I tugged. I swung out with my right fist—harder than I should have, harder than I needed to—until my hand connected with her face. She fell back with a hurt yelp, knocking over a slim golden table. A cloud of perfume burst in the air. In that moment, the world tasted like sugar and roses and blood. I stepped back, my chest heaving. I waited for her to stand and fight, but she didn’t. She sat there with her legs crossed beneath her, arms wrapped around her thin ribcage. She was sobbing.
“You took my brother. He was not yours to take. He was mine,” said the girl, her voice sounded muddled. Young. Tears streaked her cheeks.
“And you tried to take what was mine,” I said.
“You’re a monster.”
I secured the necklace.
“We all have to be something.”
Copyright © 2017 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Griffin.