Beneath a Marble Sky (2004) by John Shors is a book I received from my mother. She was giving it away but said that it was worth reading, so I grabbed it. And now that I'm taking a mini break from library books and finally getting to all the books I have sitting around, I finally read it. Beneath a Marble Sky is a fictionalized story surrounding the building of the Taj Mahal. When Jahanara's mother dies in childbirth, her father, the Emperor, is buried in grief, and he decides to build a wondrous mausoleum to honor her. But the main love story in this novel is Jahanara and Isa's story; they meet during the building of the Taj Mahal and try to stay together through marriages, births, uprising, turmoil and death.
On the whole, this was an entertaining book. I liked the characters, cared about them, and wanted good things for them. The intrigue, excitement, and danger of a power struggle for the kingdom kept me turning the pages. The historical setting and details were interesting and added a lot to the story.
However, I wouldn't call this novel great. The characters were one dimensional, and I was often left wondering about their motivations. Jahanara was supposed to be extremely smart and cunning in ways of the court, but then she does some stunningly stupid things that were not explained in the book and didn't fit with her character. I had the same problems with Jahanara's evil, power hungry brother, Aurangzeb. His motivations stemmed from a lust for power, jealousy, hatred, and religious conviction, changing as the plot required, but I never had a good idea of who he was. It also made no sense to me that Aurangzeb, a man beset by paranoia with spies working for him all over the kingdom, would so cavalierly allow unknown visitors to see and talk with his father and sister in private, while they are imprisoned: not the actions of a good despot. In addition, almost all the other characters easily fit into "good" or "bad" stereotypes, being either unendingly loyal and helpful or indesribably evil.
This novel read like a romance novel set in an interesting historical period with some good details. It was entertaining and not difficult for me to finish, but the characters and plot details kept taking me out of the story and I found myself wishing I could read a non-fiction account of the Taj Mahal and the royal family.