Roshani Chokshi has written middle grade and YA novels, each set in intricate and fantastical words. For her latest book, Chokshi made her foray into the world of adult fiction.
“The Last Tale of the Flower Bride,” out Feb. 14, 2023, retains Chokshi’s signature flair for lavish world-building and plot twists, but the book is concerned with the all-grown-up topic of marriage. Indigo Maxwell-Casteñada is a mythology scholar who believes in fairy tales. His marriage to an heiress seems perfect until they have to return to her enchanted childhood home, and he becomes sucked into a world of dreams — a world some people never leave.
“The story is about a fairy tale marriage and what happens when the fairy tale must come to an end,” Chokshi told TODAY.
On Instagram, Chokshi said this is the first book she’s written that came out of a “place of terror.” Where did this Gothic-infused novel of a marriage gone awry, bent under the weight of secrets, stem from?
Chokshi told TODAY that her latest book was inspired by her own first year of marriage.
Chokshi has been with her husband since they were 15. Still, living back in their childhood city of Atlanta, now as a married couple, and in the midst of the pandemic, she found herself dealing with an influx of emotions. “I was totally unmoored,” she said.
“I'm one of those people who when I’m off or feel sick, I immediately return to the things that make me feel nostalgic and cozy again,” she said. For Chokshi, those things are fairy tales. She found a few of her old books in her parents’ house, scrawled with her childhood notes. “I went to the ones that were my favorite and said, ‘This is horrifying.’ They’re casually gruesome,” she said.
No story was more influential in the writing of “Flower Bride” than the story of Bluebeard, the man who let his wife roam any room in his house — except for one. Of course, his bride’s curiosity rises to Orpheus levels, and she can't resist the temptation to look. Behind the locked door, she finds stacks of his former wives’ dead bodies.
“We could call (the book) a gender-bent Bluebeard, retelling a story about a married couple who loves one another very much and are hiding a lot of secrets from one another,” she said.
As for whether her husband has read the book? “He has expressed deep bewilderment that I had the nerve to sleep next to him every single night when I wrote this,” Chokshi said, laughing. “He was really very encouraging and also like, ‘Is there something you want to talk to me about?’”
But he also played a role in shaping the book’s twists.
“My husband is actually the one who pushed the book darker, so I almost feel like in some way it was a co-emotional exercise. My husband just radiates dark, intense Scorpio energy and he's a little frightening. So when he would make suggestions about something, I was like, ‘What the heck? Are you OK?’ It was fun,” she said.
As for whether she, like Indigo, believes in the impossible? "Without a doubt, there has to be something — and I hope it never reveals itself because that would be so disappointing," she said.
Below, read the beginning of "The Last Tale of the Flower Bride."
Read the start of the first chapter of 'The Last Tale of the Flower Bride'
Once upon a time, Indigo Maxwell-Castenada found me.
I had been lost a long time, and had grown comfortable in the dark. I didn't imagine anyone could lure me from it. But Indigo was one of those creatures that can hunt by scent alone, and the reek of my desperate wanting must have left a tantalizing, fluorescent trail.
Before Indigo, I avoided places where money served as pageantry rather than payment. I clung to the opinion that they were loud and crass, the shabby but sturdy armor of a poor man. In those days, I was poor. But I had become rich in expertise, and it was in this capacity that I served as a visiting curator to L'Exposition Des Femme Monstreuses. The exhibit had brought me to Paris on someone else's dime and, eventually, to the Hotel de Castenada.
Once one of the royal apartments of Louis XIV and Marie Antoinette, the Hotel de Castenada now ranked among the finest hotels in the world. The vaulted ceiling, a restoration of the original I was told, still showed indifferent, muscular gods reclining amidst gold-bellied clouds. Ivy lined the walls, through which the snarling faces of stone satyrs peered and panted at the guests.
It was common knowledge that each of the Castenada hotels centered around a fairytale motif. I gathered this one was an homage to Perrault's La Belle et la Bete-Beauty and the Beast-and while I hated to admit it, something about it seemed not of this world. It was so lovely I could almost ignore the crowd of models and DJs, red-faced businessmen and whatever other brilliantly arrayed and ostensibly vapid creatures such beautiful places attracted.
"Sir?" A slim, dark-skinned waitress appeared at my side. This was the second time she'd stopped by my table. I had chosen one near the back of the room so I might keep an eye on the entrance. "Are you sure I cannot get you anything?"
I glanced at the menu beside the haphazard collection of notes I'd prepared for the evening. The cocktails started at 50 euros. I smiled at the waitress, raised my half-filled glass of water and then tapped the empty dish of complementary spiced nuts.
"Perhaps another of these?" I asked. "My guest must be running late."
The waitress managed a brittle smile and took the dainty, porcelain dish-the cost of which was likely more than what I'd spend on dinner-and walked away without another word. She probably thought I was lying about meeting someone. And truly, part of me thought I might be lying if I believed my intended guest would deign to meet with me.
After months of searching for the whereabouts of a 131h century grimoire, I had traced it to the private collection of the Castenada family. Initially, my requests to view the piece had gone unanswered. This was not surprising. I was well-known only in academic circles, a Middle Ages historian with an interest in the preservation of incunabulum. I had nothing to lose but time. So, I wrote letter after letter, stood for hours as the fax machine spit them out into offices around the world. I lost a tiny fortune in long-distance phone calls until, finally, I received a message one week before I flew to Paris.
You may meet me at the Hotel on the 711• of November. 8 o'clock.
I.M.C. Indigo Maxwell-Castenada. The heir of the Castenada fortune.
I knew nothing about him, and I preferred it that way. I have never understood this preoccupation with the rich and famous and how they spend their existence. The way some people clung to celebrity coincidences-"our birthdays are the same!"- as if this were something shared and sacred.
I checked my watch: 8:45 p.m.
Perhaps he'd forgotten our meeting? Or maybe he was already here and simply wrapping up a previous engagement?
Across the room, I felt a pair of eyes on me. Twenty feet away sat a couple in an isolated booth that resembled a golden birdcage. The man caught me looking and grinned.
"A diamond martini for the lady!" he shouted, snapping his fingers.
The man had a mop of yellow hair, a head too heavy for his neck. He bore a distinct resemblance to a melting candle. Beside him sat a woman as voluptuous as a temple carving.
The bartender approached their booth, pushing a glass cart of cocktail accoutrements, and immediately set about measuring, pouring, shaking. He was followed close behind by a sharply dressed dark-skinned man carrying a velvet box. A jeweler. The man opened the box, revealing an assortment of diamonds.
"Pick," said the yellow-haired man to the woman. "The diamond is yours."
The woman pointed one pale finger to the brightest, largest carat. The bartender held out a frosted martini glass for the jeweler. He dropped in her chosen diamond, and it sank like a fallen star.
"A votre sante," said the jeweler as the bartender departed with the rattling cart.
The woman, still grinning, lifted her fingers as if she might pluck out the jewel. The old man beside her grabbed her wrist-
"! said the diamond was yours. I didn't say you could take it out of the fucking glass." The woman appeared stung. She looked from the glass to the man, her eyes narrowing.
"I'm fucking serious," he said, even as he laughed. "If you want it so badly, you can find it in tomorrow's filth."
The woman was clearly disgusted. For a moment, I thought she might throw the drink in his face. Across the room, our eyes met. She drained the glass in one go, diamond and all. And then lifted her chin in defiance, her gaze full of ugly recognition: You are starving prey. Just like me.
I hid it well, but she was right: I was always hungry. A single moment of either madness or mystery had shaped my life. Ever since, I have sought proof of the impossible and bent my whole life around the feeding of it.
I fanned out the pages on the marble table, studying my notes for next week's speech on the myth ofMelusine. The print before me showed Melusine with tangled, waist-length hair, bat wings and a coiling, serpent tail. Her hands were clasped in demure horror, as if she was clinging to some last vestige of gentile shock before she could abandon her husband for his betrayal.
Melusine had been made famous in Jean d' Arras's 14th century writing. Depending on the source material, she was something of a mermaid or a siren. One day, a nobleman came across her in a forest glade and begged her to be his wife. She agreed on the condition that he never spy on her while she bathed. The nobleman agreed, and for a time they were happy. But eventually, curiosity overwhelmed him and, one day, he spied on her as she bathed, saw her true nature and lost her forever.
I have always been intrigued by these not-quite women, whether they were sirens or mermaids, kinnari or selkie. The world can't seem to decide whether to condemn, covet or celebrate them. They're damned as reminders oflust, and yet the House of Luxembourg enthusiastically claimed descent from Melusine's unnatural bloodline, and inside an 11th century
church in Durham Castle there lived a mermaid carved in stone. Hundreds of years ago, perhaps some pagan entering a church to escape the cold would have seen that carving as a message. A password, of sorts, that even in this strange place and strange religion lay something familiar ...
Even if she is a devil. "Sir?"
I looked up, ready to admit defeat to the waitress and leave when I saw that she was holding a platter with two drinks. She held out an envelope: "A gift from another guest."
The two drinks looked identical: a rich amber whiskey with a perfectly clear sphere of ice. I opened the letter.
The drink on the left will fill your belly for the rest of your days, but you will only be able to speak truths.
The drink on your right will leave you hungrier than before, but it will polish every lie that leaves your tongue.
I looked around the room, a strange tingling worked its way up from the base of my skull. Even before I reached for the glass on the right, I imagined that magic liquid gilding my tongue. The whiskey tasted like a hot knife, burnt and metallic, with a cinnamon aftertaste. It never occurred to me this might be only a game.
After a few more sips, I heard the softest laugh. I turned in my seat, and that was when I first laid eyes on Indigo Maxwell-Castaneda. Not a man at all, but a woman.
She leaned against the wall, hardly ten feet from me, wearing a column dress of shirred, navy silk that looked as if it had been poured onto her body. Sapphires winked at her throat and ears. Silver flashed on her wrists.
She moved lightly. I want to say that it was gentle and serene, like a fawn through snow.