The Last Tale of the Flower Bride
By Roshani Chokshi
(292 pages, fantasy, 2023)
Rooted in fairy tales and folklore, “The Last Tale of the Flower Bride” can leave the reader wondering what really happened. Is there magic? Did it touch the two narrators? I’m still thinking about the events in the story.
The first narrator we meet is The Bridegroom. We never learn his name. He’s a scholar of folklore and fairy tales who has traced the ownership of a particular book to the fabulously wealthy Castaneda family. When he is finally able to meet the scion of that family to discuss access to the book, he’s surprised – and enchanted – to find the heir is a beautiful and mysterious woman, Indigo Maxwell-Castaneda. He goes home with Indigo that night and never leaves, promising only that he will never look into her past.
Our second narrator, Azure, appears when The Bridegroom and Indigo return to Indigo’s childhood home as the health of her aunt fails. Indigo and her aunt have not shared a roof since Indigo came into her inheritance at age 18. Azure was Indigo’s best friend from the age of 10 until their graduation from high school, when Azure disappeared. No one has seen her since.
Azure tells the story of her friendship with Indigo, their lives leading up to high school graduation. The Bridegroom tells of his meeting with Indigo and their life together, years after the events of Indigo’s school days. Besides the lure of fairy land, there is the very real magic of Indigo’s great fortune and privilege, which changes life for Azure and for The Bridegroom. Indigo can make things happen, and she is not hesitant to use her power whether it’s her political and economic influence in her adulthood or her glamour as a preteen and teenager.
The author weaves together all too real horrors of modern life – mean girls in high school, boys whose parents erase the past they thought they remembered – with a belief in and a longing for magic that will wash away all the unpleasantness of the real world. There are echoes of “Bluebeard’s Castle” and Margaret Atwood’s brutal story of frenemies, “Cat’s Eye,” not to mention numerous retellings of fairy tales. It’s a Gothic tale, unsettling and thought-provoking, probing the importance of memory and the courage (and vulnerability) required to face the past.
At the end, I’m not sure it really is a fantasy genre book. Maybe it’s literary fiction. You’ll have to read it yourself to decide.
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