The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff – ARC Review!

Geeta’s no-good husband disappeared five years ago. She didn’t kill him, but everyone thinks she did–no matter how much she protests.
But she soon discovers that being known as a “self-made” widow has some surprising perks. No one messes with her, no one threatens her, and no one tries to control (ahem, marry) her. It’s even been good for her business; no one wants to risk getting on her bad side by not buying her jewelry.

Freedom must look good on Geeta, because other women in the village have started asking for her help to get rid of their own no-good husbands…but not all of them are asking nicely.

Now that Geeta’s fearsome reputation has become a double-edged sword, she must decide how far to go to protect it, along with the life she’s built. Because even the best-laid plans of would-be widows tend to go awry.

Geeta’s husband disappeared five years ago and, despite what the local rumour mill says, she didn’t kill him. She can’t say he’s a loss though, there are perks of being a ‘self-made’ widow, no one messes with her, tries to control her, and her business has been booming because no one wants to risk getting on her bad side and getting cursed. But not everyone has it as good as Geeta, and she soon finds that the rumours of murder aren’t all their cracked up to be when women from the village start coming to her for help ‘dispatching’ their husbands, and not all of them are asking nicely. Geeta now has to decide how far she wants to go to protect the reputation she has been given, because even the best laid plans can come back to bite you.

This book was not at all what I expected and I adored it. The story is told from Geeta’s POV. After her no good husband disappeared 5 years ago she has created a life that she loves. One where she get’s left alone and one where any money she earns she gets to keep and spend for herself. Despite the rumours that surround her, Geeta has an incredibly good heart and likes to see the best in people, something that doesn’t always work in her favour. But what I loved most about her character was seeing her come out of her shell as the story went on, she isn’t a wholly good person, none of the characters are, and she can be incredibly naive, but as the story goes on we see her start to realise the strength in having people who care for you and that a reputation of fear might not be one she wants to carry forward.

Alongside Geeta the story focuses on the women from her village who she feels have shunned her since her husbands disappearance. Every single one of these characters are well built, not all of them good, but they add a certain humour as well as heartening feel to the story. The female cast as a whole completely stole this story for me. Their vulnerability, their sharpness and wit they were just incredibly brought to life and I loved seeing them wanting and willing to change their own stories, especially in a place and time that was determined to take any free will away.

It’s described as dark humour and that’s incredibly true, I can’t tell you the amount of times I chuckled or full on belly laughed my way through this book. The interactions, and some of the situations our characters find themselves in lend themselves to a humorous take, and Shroff allowed them their humour and wit even in the direst of circumstance. Her writing style is light and makes for an incredibly easy and quick read, I found myself picking this book up at any free chance I could get because I wanted to devour every bit of information and character interaction I could get. She shows the reality of friendship, especially female friendship incredibly well, and how easy it is to have that taken away from you when the men in your life feel threatened. It’s a funny story, also one that made me incredibly angry in parts, but filled with heartwarming scenes of sisterhood and shows just how dangerous women can be if we work together.

But there are also scenes and tales in this book that certainly aren’t for the faint of heart and are used to show the true reality of being a female in a country that see’s you as a second class citizen. Shroff shows this brilliantly through her tales of the Bandit Queen, Phoolan Devi, a real life Robin Hood who underwent some truly traumatic events that lead to her fame. I didn’t know that these were based on a true person until I did a little research and that made the book that much more real, but also traumatic in a way. Shroff doesn’t shy away from the dark side of being a woman, owned by your husband, the fact that marital rape doesn’t exist, as well as the reality of the justice system for crimes against women. So for those expecting a bit of a romp, I would warn you that there are some harrowing stories throughout, as well as on page attempted rape and attack, but this is the reality for women and I’m glad the author didn’t shy away from it.

I honestly adored this book, and it’s one I will definitely be buying a physical copy of to share with all my friends. If you want a deep dive into Indian culture, the caste system, life as a women, but also want to follow the story of a group of incredible, strong and witty women as they try and change the stories life has given them so far, I can’t recommend this enough. Safe to say I will be 100% picking up whatever the author writes next.

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