Historian Ruby Lal reframes the historical narrative about a Muslim woman who co-ruled an empire with her husband, Jahangir of India, deconstructing her reputation as a haughty temptress and revealing her to be “a devoted wife, a wise and just queen, a shrewd politician.”
Empress succeeds in its mission to impress upon the reader the remarkable character and achievements of Nur Jahan ... According to Lal, Nur has been unfairly blamed for the civil strife that accompanied the latter part of her rule with Jahangir and given little of the credit she deserves. Empress remedies these slanders and oversights while telling an engrossing tale of female power.
Despite the spare record she has to work with, Lal paints richly detailed scenes from Nur’s life ... Lal ably guides the reader through the rich drama and intrigue of Nur’s later life with Jahangir ... While filled with particulars, Empress can, at times, feel disjointed as Lal breezes over some of the larger developments and changes in Nur’s life. While she dwells extensively on the milieu of the harem, she spends little time explaining what led Jahangir to elevate Nur above his other wives ... Lal is clearly constrained by the paucity of the material she has to work with. But she seems too reluctant to draw inferences and make analytical deductions. She might not be able to say definitely what transpired between Nur and Jahangir or Nur and Shah Jahan, but she could tell readers what she thinks is the most credible and plausible account. Still, Lal has done a service to readers interested in the Mughal period and the many forgotten or poorly remembered women of Indian history. She has helped shine a little light on an enigmatic character many think they know but few actually understand.
Ms. Lal’s meticulous book seeks to show that history has been unfair to Nur Jahan, a woman of many talents and remarkable force of character ... In filling in the details of Nur Jahan’s life, Ms Lal has not only written a revisionist feminist biography; she has also provided a vivid picture of the Mughal court, with its luxuries, beauties, intrigues and horrors. Moreover, at a time when India’s Hindu-nationalist government chooses to emphasize one strain in the country’s history, she offers a reminder of the diversity of Indian tradition.