Book Review: ‘Kaikeyi’ by Vaishnavi Patel

Vaishnavi Patel re-tells an ancient myth with ‘Kaikeyi’. This is ancient myth with deep cultural roots. What Patel has done is take a character who has been maligned for generations and make her downright human. This god among mortals has her own story to tell, and Patel is the perfect author to bring it to light. Weaving in well-known characters with lesser ones leads to a captivating hero’s journey. 

New Take on an Ancient Myth:

As someone unfamiliar with the original myth of Rama and Kaikeyi, I was enthralled with this story from beginning to end. Of course, Rama is a central figure in Hinduism. The shear amount of stories associated with this sacred figure can lead to stories like this one. Patel is one such artist who clearly has a talent for finding part of one well-known story and expanding on it to make something entirely new. 

As ancient as the material of ‘Kaikeyi’ seems, it reads as downright modern. These may be gods and demi-gods. At the end of the day, though, each of these characters have very human concerns. Love, betrayal, and wanting the best for one’s children are timeless concerns. This take makes the entire story that much more relatable, since we the readers can see ourselves in these heavenly beings. 

Mothers and Sons:

One of the most endearing parts of this story is the meditation on the experience of siblings, and the complex relationships between mothers and sons. For all of her flaws, it’s clear throughout the story that Kaikeyi wants the best for all of her children. She sees what they are capable of. Like any good parent, she recognizes their intrinsic worth. 

Relatedly, this story is a meditation on the legacy we leave to the next generation. Whether we are related by blood or not, we have a responsibility to consider the next generations. Patel so beautifully captures the struggle that any parent faces to allow their children to fulfill their destinies while also trying to protect them from the evils of the world. Framing the relationship between parents and children in the context of balancing the forces of good and evil will always illicit an emotional response from this writer. 

Asexual Queen:

Whether it’s intended explicitly or not, Kaikeyi is a great example of an asexual character. She’s at least coded as asexual. She never expresses anything resembling romantic interest toward any of the characters she interacts with, including her spouse. Yet, she’s always shown to be capable of tremendous love. This is a good start towards asexual and demisexual representation. A character like this shows that asexuality is more than being averse to any kind of sexual relationship.

As expansive as Kaikeyi is, it is ultimately surprisingly intimate. This great hero’s journey is grounded in the story of someone to whom readers can cast as an aspirational figure. This mythological re-telling manages to maintain the sacred story of Rama, while adding to his backstory. In the end, this is far more than a worthy journey. 

Kaikeyi is available now. 

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