Ok, so this one (also by M M Kaye) I picked up almost immediately after The Far Pavilions, with a couple of light books in between.
So Captain Alex Randall is sent to England by the Commissioner of Lunjore to accompany the latter’s betrothed back to India, an orphan named Winter who naively worships the Commissioner, not knowing how terrible a person he actually is. Obviously, Alex and Winter fall in love (after a fashion) and go through a truckload of trouble, in between all the intrigue of the 1857 Rebellion.
Since I read this one and TFP (The Far Pavilions) so close together, I couldn’t help comparing them, and unfortunately Shadow of the Moon doesn’t come off favourably at all. At its best, it feels like a treatise on the 1857 Rebellion, with a pinch of rather dispassionate romance thrown in, and that’s about it. Apparently Kaye wrote this first, but her agent liked TFP more, so that was published first, and with good reason. TFP is almost an epic, it encompasses a huge amount of history and romance, along with excellently etched out characters. Shadow of the Moon, sadly, ended up reading like a pastiche of TFP, even though it was written first. There is much more obvious British superiority here, and what is, even today, revered as a hugely patriotic deed (the 1857 Rebellion) in India, is written about as a crime/mutiny to be suppressed.
The India that had once seemed to her so glamorous and beautiful a country began to wear a different aspect, for she knew by now that underneath that glamour and beauty lurked undreamed-of depths of cruelty and terror, just as the graceful minarets and gilded domes of the palaces rose above narrow, filthy streets and the squalid hovels of the poor.
The contrast between our great cities and the squalor of the East must cause such visitors the greatest amazement.
Since the average native of the country, though for the most part careless of death, possessed a disproportionate fear of being painfully wounded.
Oh dear. Just you tell that to the warriors of Rajputana.
The characters are rather unremarkable. Kaye tries to make hero Alex Randall think exactly like Ash in TFP, but it just doesn’t work, primarily because we have no idea who Captain Randall actually is, or anything much about his past. The heroine, Winter, seems to be somewhat of an English-Rose-cum-doormat and I couldn’t sympathise much with her either. That left only the villain, Kishan Prasad, who is a gracious nobleman at the forefront of the Rebellion plans, and who, rather frustratingly, won all my admiration and empathy. This is one of the very few books that put me in this dilemma of being unable to see from the author’s point of view, because I identified more with the villains than with the ‘good’ people.
Usually a thrilling love story goes a long way in redeeming bad plots for me, but unfortunately in this case the romance was also rather dry and very uneventful. In fact, Alex doesn’t even realise he’s in love with Winter until a few days after a one-night-stand (yes, with her only, thankfully); upto then he keeps thinking of her as a burden, which is ideally not the stuff great romances (or any romance, for that matter) are made of.
The Far Pavilions worked because the romance propelled the plot and tied up all the knots neatly, and this one fails because the Rebellion propels the romance, and it is just not enough. It would probably have been better if there had been no love story at all, then Kaye could have written about the Rebellion and its horrors (oh the irony) to her heart’s content.
It is not all bad, however. There is a lovely story about Winter’s English mother and Spanish father in the very beginning; that was the part I liked the most. It is a beautiful story, and more in tune with what I thought were Kaye’s sensibilities. So read the book if you must, dear reader, for the writing is absolutely fantastic, but you would, I suspect, enjoy it more if you knew nothing about India; then it would probably feel more exotic and enchanting than disappointing.
Quotes to remember:
When churls rebel against their native prince, I arm their hands and furnish the pretence, and housing in the lion’s hateful sign, bought senates and deserting troops are mine – Dryden
Somewhere within those walls, a shadow among shadows, the last of the Moguls – an old, frail, withered pantaloon, stripped of all power and King only in name – shuffled through the marble magnificence of the palace built by Shah Jahan, composing Persian couplets to fill his aimless days.
As long as these people were divided by their castes and their creeds into antagonistic factions they would always be at the mercy of a conqueror, but if they once combined they could stand against any from sheer weight of numbers. But they will never combine. Never.
P.S. This is Book 9 in the Brunch Book Challenge, and my Twitter handle is @sindbadrose, the challenge is at #BrunchBookChallenge.. 🙂