You know you’re a sword geek when you notice the sword before anything else on the cover.

Okay, let’s face it. Like most men, I’m a sucker for a pretty face. Like most geeks, I’m a sucker for a pretty face with a smart brain. But give that smart, pretty woman a sword, and . . . sorry, where was I?

When my friend and future co-author Elizabeth Hajek was offered the chance to host a giveaway for Michelle Moran’s upcoming book Rebel Queen, I thought “good for her.” When I realized it was about Rani Lakshmibai, I thought “I should really buy this book because history and battles and sword-wielding queens oh my.”

Now, I should say that I know about as much about Indian history as I do about American football. That is, I can kind of recognize the names involved and where they’re supposed to go and vaguely how things fit together (though I still can’t find the goalie), but just like I’ll confuse an NFL team with ones that play baseball (that’s the one that plays indoor and bounces the ball a lot, right?), I’ll get north and south India mixed up, which, take it from me, is worse than getting northern India mixed up with Pakistan.

However, as I read the back cover text for Rebel Queen, I realized that I had heard of Rani Lakshmibai.

I was first introduced to her through Minimum Wage Historian, where Zach Hill presents short histories of pivotal historical persons or events in a “talk show” style, using fictionalized historical figures as talking heads. Like me, he has a bit of a thing for women with swords, and his book Fearless: Powerful Women of History indulges that to (ha, ha) the hilt.

Rani Lakshmibai is often called the Indian Joan of Arc, mainly because most people don’t know about enough women warriors to get a better comparison. Mind you, they both fought against the British, they both lead armies, and they both gave everything for what they believed in. As comparisons go, it’s not too bad. Though at least Lakshmibai wasn’t burned to death for the crime of wearing pants. Them British.

Lakshmibai was born Manikarnika in 1835, and only gained the name Lakshmibai in 1842 when she married Raja Gangadhar Rao Newalkar, the Maharaja of Jhansi. Yes, she was only seven years old when she became Rani (roughly “queen,” the same way that “raja” means “king,” with some wiggle-room for nuance). She never lived to see her thirtieth birthday. We’re talking explosions in small packages here.

After she gave birth to a son in 1851 who almost immediately died, her husband the maharaja adopted another child. The reason for this was important. The British East India Company was running roughshod over India, and if any of the rulers failed to produce an heir, they claimed control under what amounted to a glorified legal fiction, backed up by cannon rather than constitutions.

The EIC decided not to recognize Lakshmibai’s adoptive son as the true heir, and served her an eviction notice. You might expect that to be the start of her rebellion, but no; she complied, because frankly, those were some really big cannons. No, the trouble began later, when some others massacred British officers (as well as their wives and children), and she got blamed for it by the British even as she had to organize her city of Jhansi to stave off attacks from other Indian states.

When the British came to reclaim her city nearly a year later, Jhansi was doing quite well without the benevolence of the East India Company. The British demanded her surrender. Rani Lakshmibai replied with a very politely-worded refusal that, when you take out the inspirational elements, roughly translates to “Up yours, limeys.”

The story doesn’t end happily, as anyone with a cursory knowledge of British history can assume. There was no heroic uprising of the entire countryside to drive out the British. There was no unification of oppressed states like there was in North America, nor a France standing by to help win a war for independence. It’s not a fairy tale story. Or perhaps it is; before Disney, a lot of those famous fairy tales didn’t have happy endings.

But like those “unhappy” fairy tales, the story remains important. It’s a story truly worthy of being a fairy tale. It has the oppressed princess, the call to arms, the life-or-death struggle over not just survival but freedom. Queen Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi, the famous Rebel Queen of India.

Rebel Queen will be released on March 3rd (my birthday, actually) in both hardcover and ebook editions. But if you want to win a free copy, just head over to Elizabeth’s blog before February 15th and leave a comment describing why you’re excited about this book, or why you’d like to read another of Michelle Moran’s novels. That’s just ten days away! And as of the moment I write this, there are only five comments so far. You’ve got pretty good odds of getting a book.