I liked the first book in Susan Kaye Quinn’s Dharian Affairs trilogy so much that I immediately binge read the next two books. The first book is Third Daughter, and as you may guess the next two are, in this order, Second Daughter and First Daughter.
I felt that the series got away from the author a bit – there was an awful lot going on and no particular element got the attention it deserved. But overall this series was a lot of fun and used a fantasy setting in a creative, original way. Spoilers for Third Daughter and Second Daughter to follow, since I’m reviewing the whole trilogy in this review.
The Dharian Affairs is a steampunk trilogy based in a fantasy setting very loosely modeled on India. It’s such a joy to read steampunk that isn’t set in Victorian England or America. I’m grading this series a little more generously than perhaps I should because I liked the setting so much. The world building is lavish. Lots of politics, lots of clothes (oh, those clothes!) lots of scenery.
The first book was primarily a romance. Although romance is important in the other two books, it’s secondary to the political drama and the relationships between the sisters. The main character, Aniri, starts off Third Daughter as the spoiled baby of the Dharian royal family. By the second book, she’s grown tremendously, but now she has to actually convince her family that she’s grown up and she has to step into her role as a leader. She’s also fallen in love with Ash, the Prince of Jungali. Because the romance is more or less resolved at the end of Third Daughter, I assumed that the other books would be romances about the other sisters. Instead, Aniri remains the protagonist and we follow her exploits as she tries to prevent a three way war between her home country (Dharia), her fiancee’s country (Jungali), and the country her sister married into (Samir).
In the second book, Second Daughter, Aniri has hesitations about marrying Ash even though at the end of the first book they seemed madly in love. This seemed like a contrived and irritating way to drag out the romantic tension – but it also seemed incredibly sensible of Aniri. One of the problems with the romance in Third Daughter was that Aniri chooses Ash in a love triangle mostly because the third party is revealed as a scumbag. In Second Daughter, Aniri worries about whether she and Ash will still be in love when they aren’t in the midst of a massive drama, which I thought was pretty smart of her. She also struggles to clear up a Big Misunderstanding, which is my least favorite plot device ever. Seriously. I dislike the Big Mis even more than AMNESIA! or Secret Baby. But I digress.
By the end of Second Daughter, Aniri has become quite the badass and the focus shifts to the relationship between Aniri and her big sister, Nahali. As an only child, I’m fascinated by relationships between sisters and one of the strongest parts of the series was watching the relationship between Aniri and Nahali develop. I was disappointed that the middle sister, Seledri, was completely sidelined during the last book. I was so hoping for a grand finale in which Seledri, Nahali, and Aniri present a united front in some big battle and crush evil. Oh, well. Two sisters are better than none.
The books get better as they go along and become more complex (as a romance, the first book was very predictable). However, they also suffer as they become more ambitious. The sisters need more time for their relationships to grow. The romance needs more time and more substance so that it can develop organically and not be rushed into a convenient resolution. Ash as a character is very flat and often off the page, so the romance feels arbitrary. There are also several side-romances that are similarly entertaining but contrived. The villain is obvious and cliché. The only reason the main characters survive longer than two minutes is that the villain likes to gloat and reveal his plans. If he had followed this Evil Overlord Guide the series would have been over awfully quick.
As you can see, I had something of a love/hate relationship with this series. It would have been stronger as a massive epic, because there are so many threads in it. It jumps around, it has a terrible villain, and conflicts are resolved at the appointed time in a convenient manner. But the action scenes are sublime, the politics are deft, the world building glorious, and although I often found Aniri to be irritating I also found her to be plausible and well developed as a character. The author calls this style “Bollypunk” and at moments I was waiting for characters to burst into song, which in my opinion is always a good thing.
I’d grade the series overall as a B-. I think I’m grading a little too generously given the technical problems, but the Bollypunk aesthetic charmed me. By the way, the fact that these are self-published books has not stoppped them from having great covers. I adore these covers – they are striking, unusual, and convey the spirit of the book.