ARC Review: THE LADY OR THE LION by Aamna Qureshi

Rating: ★★★★★

Summary: Perfect for fans of These Violent Delights and The Wrath and the Dawn, this scintillating debut retells “The Lady or the Tiger?” against a Pakistan-inspired world of forbidden love and court intrigues.

Once there was a princess forced to choose a fate for her lover-to a future in the arms of a beautiful lady, or to death in the mouth of a lion? But what came first was the fate she would choose for herself.

As crown princess of Marghazar, Durkhanai Miangul will do anything to protect her people and her land. When her grandfather, the Badshah, is blamed for a deadly assault on the summit of neighboring leaders, the tribes call for his head. To assuage cries for war, the Badshah opens Marghazar’s gates to foreigners for the first time in centuries, in a sign of good faith. Enter Ambassador Asfandyar Afridi, a wry foreigner who admits outright that he is a spy. Stubborn, proud, and suspicious of foreigners, Durkhanai does not appreciate that he won’t bow to her every whim and instead talks circles around her.

And yet, she has to make him her ally to expose those truly responsible for the attack as more ambassadors from neighboring tribal districts arrive at court, each one of them with their own agenda and reasons to hide the truth. When a mysterious illness spreads through the village and the imperialists push hard on her borders, Durkhanai must sort through the ever shifting loyalties at court and her growing feelings for Asfandyar. Will she be able to leave the antics of a spoiled princess behind and become what her people need-a queen?

Friends, THIS is a debut you really don’t want to miss out on.

I found out about The Lady or the Lion through twitter one day and was instantly sold by the premise. Pakistan inspired? Court intrigue? Forbidden romance? Sign me up! And it delivers excellently.

To start, this book is beautifully written. It’s narrated so well, with an evocative prose, clever metaphors and realistic descriptions. The setting, which is Pakistan inspired was so easy to imagine, like I myself was transported to the mountains, river, and palace of Marghazar. The imagery of it all was brought to life elgantly.

Muslim and fellow South-Asian readers are going to relish the desi references —the food, the Urdu phrases, the dresses — all felt authentic to read about. Can’t tell you how many times I craved samosa and chai or wanted to roam about in my lehenga while reading this.

She would dance along the knife’s edge of seduction and secrets: she would not get cut.

Durkhanai is a well written protagonist; complex, strong-minded, not without flaws or strong motivations. She’s devoted to her subjects and her family, for whom she would to go extreme lengths. Through her character arc we get to know of the different layers in her personality as she goes from a sheltered princess to one who makes some really difficult decisions for her kingdom, torn between blood and love. I loved that we also get insight into the notion of how strong family ties are and what keeps us tethered to them.

Asfandyar himself is a unique character and intriguing love interest, whose concealed intentions draw you in. The side characters too added charm to the story, especially Durkhanai’s cousins and her conversations with them.

The romance between her and Asfandyar is trope filled and swoon-worthy. It’s honestly one of my favourite parts of the book. The banter! The yearning! The flirting! Forbidden, secretive love has so much scope for angst and tension and Aamna did it so damn well that I honestly wanted to scream reading some scenes.

The world was cruel and unflinching – so she would be too. She would never make a fool of herself again.❜

Court intrigue is also one of the many things I cherish reading in fantasy and it does not disappoint in The Lady or the Lion. The back stories and current tenuous circumstances build up the intricate politics well.

The last few chapters had me at stressed!! I kind of predicted the revelations but it was an experience to see the pieces fall in place. I read this back in February and when I tell you I still think about the ending that left me hanging… Can’t wait to see what the sequel has in store for me and the characters, I’m sure it’s going to be all the more gripping!

Thank you Camcat books and Edelweiss for the ARC!

The Lady or the Lion by Aamna Qureshi releases July 20th.

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CW: suicide, murder, contagious disease, racism, classism, manipulation, dysfunctional family, death of loved ones, murder of a child, neocolonialism

17 thoughts on “ARC Review: THE LADY OR THE LION by Aamna Qureshi”

  1. Oh, wow! I’ve already been eyeing this book with such heart eyes, especially with aesthetics like the one you included here, and reading this review has only made me even more excited. Especially with all the desi references and of course, romance. 😍

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ahh Gauri I’m so thrilled to read this review!! It makes me happy to see how much other people also enjoyed The Lady or the Lion, and I SO agree that it made me want to put on a pretty lehenga and call for chai. It’s one of my favorite reads of the year, and such a special story. Lovely review; you captured all my thoughts about it perfectly!!

    Liked by 1 person

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