Summary and book reviews of Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

Beneath a Marble Sky

By John Shors

Beneath a Marble Sky
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2004,
    325 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2006,
    352 pages.

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Book Summary

In 1632, the Emperor of Hindustan, Shah Jahan, consumed by grief over the death of his empress, Mumtaz Mahal, ordered the building of a grand mausoleum to symbolize the greatness of their love. Against scenes of unimaginable wealth and power, murderous sibling rivalries, and cruel despotism, Princess Jahanara tells the extraordinary story of how the Taj Mahal came to be, describing her own life as an agent in its creation and as a witness to the fateful events surrounding its completion.

To escape a brutal arranged marriage, Jahanara must become the court liaison to Isa, architect of the Taj Mahal. She is soon caught between her duty to her mother's memory, the rigid strictures imposed upon women, and a new, though forbidden, love. With exceptional courage, Jahanara dares to challenge the bigotry and blindness at court in an effort to spare the empire from civil war, and to save her father from his bellicose son, Aurangzeb, a man whose hatred would extinguish the Islamic enlightenment from the Mughal Empire. To do so she must enlist her Hindu friend, Ladli, and her guardian, Nizam, as spies, and urge her brother, Dara, the designated heir to the throne, down from the ivory tower of his philosophical inquiries. The stakes become ever greater when Jahanara must deceive her husband as to the true father of her child, and must protect those closest to her from her enemies' retaliation.

As a princess and a mother, as a sister and a daughter, Jahanara will find herself faced time and again with impossible choices, and will discover the real meaning of her regal birthright. In Beneath a Marble Sky John Shors recreates an historical Hindustan brimming with breathtaking intrigue and containing the secret truth of the Taj Mahal for a world still in awe of its enduring majesty.

Part 1

The minute I heard my first love story,
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere,
they’re in each other all along.
RUMI

In the early days, when I was still an innocent girl, my father believed in perfection.

Once, musing over his empire, contemplating the splendor he had created, he composed a poem. On the vaulted ceiling above his Peacock Throne he had an artist inscribe in gold, "If there is a paradise on the face of the Earth, it is this, it is this, it is this." Simple words from a simple man. But how true they were.

Sunrise over the Yamuna River has often prompted me to think of Paradise. From the broad shoulders of the waterway I have cherished the sights before me as I might cherish the face of my lover. This morning’s views are as inspiring as ever, especially after having been away in hiding for so long. To my right sprawls the magnificent Red Fort. Opposite, awash in the sun’s...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. The original title for the book was Souls In Stone. Which title do you prefer, and why?

  2. Did you like the scenes with Jahanara and her granddaughters, or would the book have been complete without them?

  3. Jahanara’s character is greatly influenced by her need to please her parents. Are such needs any less important today?

  4. The author uses foreshadowing at various places in the novel. Does he use it too much?

  5. If you were Jahanara, would you have let the cobra kill Aurangzeb?

  6. Isa and Nizam both experienced tragedies at a young age. Are their positive dispositions believable?

  7. Did the author misstep with any emotions that a female author might have conveyed better?

  8. What is the most memorable scene in the novel?

  9. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

This is a highly readable first novel combining elegant prose, exotic setting and historical accuracy - recommended for any who enjoy quality historical fiction, with a dollop of romance thrown in for good measure.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (420 words).

Media Reviews
Denver Rocky Mountain News

(Beneath a Marble Sky) is an absorbing novel about the extremes of passion - with much relevance for our own time.

The Boulder Daily Camera

Beneath a Marble Sky definitely qualifies as a good read.

The Des Moines Register

Jahanara is a beguiling heroine whom readers will come to love; none of today's chick-lit heroines can match her dignity, fortitude and cunning…. Elegant, often lyrical, writing distinguishes this literary fiction from the genre known as historical romance. It is truly a work of art, rare in a debut novel.

Cleveland Scene - Peter Kotz

Spellbinding. Beneath a Marble Sky is a remarkable book, an impressive debut that will enchant anyone fortunate enough to read it.

San Antonio Express-News - William Day

Beneath a Marble Sky is a tale of exquisite beauty … rich in detail, ambition, and vitality.

Kirkus Reviews

Wars and betrayals are commonplace as Aurangzeb fights to consolidate his succession, and Jahanara must endure much travail before she finds a safe haven. An overly action-packed debut, but agreeably colorful nonetheless.

Publishers Weekly

With infectious enthusiasm and just enough careful attention to detail, Shors give a real sense of the times, bringing the world of imperial Hindustan and its royal inhabitants to vivid life.

Library Journal - Kim Uden Rutter

The book is a thrilling tale of the interactions of characters recognizable for their loyalty, duplicity, and passion and will appeal to a wide audience. The author has included enough accurate details to make regular readers of historical fiction happy, too. Highly recommended.

India Post

Beneath a Marble Sky is a story which literally speaks to you. In his first novel, John Shors brilliantly recounts one of the world's greatest love stories, narrated against a backdrop of hatred and violence.

Reader Reviews
Sandy W

Good book on the Taj Mahal
I loved this book. It was wonderful to learn something about the history of the Taj Mahal. Well written and a page-turner.

Manda

Beneath a Marble Sky
I have read this book more than a few times and each time I read it, it seems to get better and better. While it may not be completely historically accurate it is a beautiful love story. It brings me to tears, and I always feel as though I am there ...   Read More

Susan LeBourg

Not on par with the Taj Mahal
While this novel has an interesting story, I am sorry to say that I think it is poorly written. It is full of short, choppy sentences, and the dialogue is often trite and anachronistic. It does not accurately portray the life of women in Indian ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

When reading historical fiction I always like to know what is fact and what is fiction. So, two years ago, when I first recommended Beneath A Marble Sky in hardcover, I asked John where fact ended and fiction began, to which he answered, "About 65% of Beneath a Marble Sky is based upon hard facts. All of the royal characters, for instance, were real people and acted as they do in my book. I did make up a few of the characters such as Nizam and Ladli, and the relationship between Jahanara and Isa is the result of my imagination."

He is working on a new book but that is having to ...

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