Net Galley issued a challenge to post a review by today August 12th. I've been meaning to review more Net Galleys. Their emphasis in the challenge is on helping new books achieve visibility. So I didn't think I should review one of my Net Galleys that had already been archived. I also like to try indie authors who are unknown to me.
I had just been approved for the anthology Intriguing Women by Lakshmi Raj Sharma. A search revealed that the author is a man. This astonished me because Lakshmi is a Hindu Goddess. I think that it's unusual for parents to name a male child after a Goddess. Perhaps the author is a devotee of Lakshmi and took this name himself. Intriguing Women is Sharma's third book. I received a free digital ARC from Net Galley in return for this honest review.
There are two connotations for the word "intriguing". Americans are likely to use it to mean the same as interesting, but it's also a synonym for scheming. Judging from the content of this anthology, Sharma is using the word to mean scheming. I would probably have never requested the book if I had known this. I had hoped to read about interesting women, not scheming women. From my perspective, scheming women are irritating. They are also usually boring because most of their plots are extremely predictable. So it's not surprising that there were very few stories in this anthology that I liked. I should point out that this is often the case with anthologies. I expect to enjoy only a small percentage of the volume. If there's even one story that I find memorable, I will consider the anthology worthwhile. If I hadn't read it, I wouldn't have encountered that particular story.
My favorite story in Intriguing Women was "The Company Garden". It's a British Raj era story dealing with reincarnation. This is a theme that interests me. The protagonist has visions of a "nautch girl". I had never heard of this term, so I conducted a search and found this rather enlightening article from the Tribune of India. They were secular dancers as opposed to temple dancers. It occurs to me that Mata Hari would have been considered a nautch girl in India. I recently reviewed The Last Dance of Mata Hari by Michelle Moran here. According to the Tribune article, Christian missionaries degraded nautch girls. Westerners did the same with the geisha of Japan. Women who danced or who engaged in other performance arts were more respected in traditional Eastern cultures. I was glad to learn something I hadn't known about India.
The stories that I preferred in this anthology centered on unusual concepts rather than characters. Since Intriguing Women was predominately satiric, the characters were largely designed as objects of derision. They tended to be lightweight stereotypes. This often applied to the men as well as the women. Yet the main target of the anthology appeared to be westernized Indian women. While I might agree with the author about the negative impact of westernization, I did find the majority of these stories rather repetitive.