Princess Aniri is the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, and as such, has limited social and political responsibilities; she’s always been aware that once she turns 18, she’ll be allowed to choose her own husband rather than be saddled with an arranged marriage like her two older sisters. As her birthday approaches, however, the threat of war with the neighbouring country of Jungali looms over Dharia, and the only way that Aniri can help her mother is by agreeing to marry Ashoka Malik, the Jungali “barbarian” prince.
Third Daughter is the first book in the Royals of Dharia series, which is followed by Second Daughter (#2) and First Daughter (#3). It was originally published in 2013.
Despite seeming at first glance to be a straightforward, arranged-marriage-leads-to-true-love story, Third Daughter’s plot had a surprising amount of depth. There’s plenty of history – and an interesting power dynamic – between the three main countries of Dharia, Jungali and Samir, and each one’s interests are represented in the three main characters. There’s also plenty of court politics to navigate, particularly once the Jungali arc begins, and Aniri finds herself surrounded by foreign customs that she has to navigate.
This book also has a great deal of action in it, from Aniri’s spy mission near the beginning, to sword-fights and mysterious super-weapons near the end, and Quinn manages to weave all these elements together to create something quite unique, and incredibly enjoyable.
Our heroine is Aniri, a tough but relatable teenager, who’s lived in the shadow of her two older sisters for most of her life. Instead of resenting this, however, she’s come to appreciate it, as it means that she’ll be allowed to marry for love instead of politics – and she’s a definite romantic. In particular, I appreciated her sheer awkwardness when trying to spy on people that she genuinely liked, as that was pretty much exactly how I felt about it – and how I often feel about spy books, when both of the parties involved are nice people.
Devesh is Aniri’s lover and fencing instructor, and a “courtesan” (he’s actually a courtier, which is quite different, but Quinn erroneously uses the word courtesan throughout the book) from Samir, Dharia’s long-standing ally. He comes across as an interesting, intelligent character, but of the three main protagonists, he’s probably the least fleshed-out, as he’s only present in the first and last sections of the book…
Lastly, there’s Ash, the “barbarian” prince who loves poetry, and wants peace for his people above all. He’s selfless and kind, and often self-conscious; he’s incredibly surprised when Aniri accepts his proposal, even though he knows that their marriage would be in Dharia’s best interests as well as Jungali’s. Ash was definitely one of my favourite people in this book – he’s just so sweet! 😀
Other important characters include: Janak, Aniri’s guard; Priya, her handmaid; and, on the more antagonistic side of things, General Garesh, who rules one of the provinces of Jungali, and is dead-set against Ash and Aniri’s marriage, or peace of any kind between their nations.
There were two significant romances in this story: One between Aniri and Ash, and the other between Aniri and Devesh, and I really liked the contrast between the two. Aniri and Devesh were all fire and passion, and sneaking out at midnight, and, although their relationship was already established at the beginning of the book, it’s indicated that it developed quite quickly after they met. Ash and Aniri’s feelings, however, grew slowly over the course of the book, with them starting out as indifferent acquaintances, and gradually becoming friends before admitting that there might be something more between them. I personally preferred the relationship with Ash, but I appreciated them both, and feel that they were both incredibly important to the development of the story, and of Aniri as a character.
The love triangle aspect of the relationship between the three of them was technically present, but understated, since the romance turned out (much to my surprise) not to be the main focus of the story, and since Ash and Devesh rarely appeared in scenes together.
Going into this book, I had no idea that it would be a steampunk novel, since it’s not mentioned in the blurb, or shown on the UK cover (which is the one that I was shown on Amazon when I bought it). That said, I think the steampunk elements were really well-incorporated into the setting: They weren’t hugely prevalent – with the exception of a few plot-significant technologies – but they were a notable part of the backdrop of Aniri’s everyday life without feeling out of place. I do feel that the story would have benefitted from a bit more in the way of interesting steampunk gadgets (notably, it would’ve been nice if that clockwork elephant that Aniri was given had had more importance), but this also wasn’t a huge issue for me.
A final note about the world: It was really, really nice to read about a fantasy world that wasn’t primarily influenced by Europe. I don’t know how much Dharia is actually like India (since I’ve never been there), but it definitely made the book stand out from a lot of the other fantasy books I’ve read.
The writing in this book was very solid, though nothing particularly special. It was well-paced, slowing down during the emotional parts, and speeding up for the action sequences, and Quinn did a really great job of balancing the two. The main problem that I (and many of the other reviewers whose opinions I’ve come across) seem to have with the writing was the way that Quinn replaced a lot the terms for traditional Indian items with descriptions. For instance, she occasionally refers to “a sweep of cloth over one arm”, which is presumably meant to be a saree… This was perhaps done in order to make the world more accessible to readers with little to no knowledge of Indian culture, but came across very clumsily, particularly when the (often long) descriptions are repeated over and over, where one word would suffice.
OVERALL IMPRESSION [4/5]
A great steampunk adventure/romance story, with a dash of politics and espionage. The plot is engaging, the characters relatable, the romance incredibly cute, and the writing fast-paced and easy to read. I really, really enjoyed this book, and am looking forward to continuing on with the series.
I got much the same vibe from this book as I did from both Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy and (more surprisingly) Final Fantasy XII. The romance may also appeal to fans of Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding.