Sunday, 8 November 2009
So I further indulged my nostalgic streak and pulled down my battered copy of 'Shadow of the Moon' by M.M Kaye, and reread it from cover to cover.
Another historical romance set in the time of the Indian Mutiny, The Shadow of the Moon follows the story of Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall. Winter was an orphan who had spent her early years in the warmth and cosy bustle of a small Indian palace. She was ripped away from everything she knew, except for her old nurse, and sent to England to live on the estate of her elderly Great-Grandfather the Earl of Ware. England was a very cold and lonely place for the young Winter and spent she spent her childhood pining for the heat and colour of her birth country and by maintaining the Indian language that she had spoken as a child with her nurse.
She was fascinated by anything to do with India, and so, while she was still very young, she became entranced by a visitor from India called Conway Barton. She was unaware that she is a considerable heiress and was too naive to realise that Conway was a thoroughly debauched character who only wanted her for her money. Her Great-Grandfather the Earl agrees to the match because he is getting very old, is not such a good judge of character as he used to be, and is concerned about who would care for Winter after his death.
After his return to India, Conway sinks back into his life of drinking and debauchery and when the time comes for the marriage knows that he cannot go to England to fetch his prospective bride, as the years have taken their toll on him and he would surely be rejected if he presents himself at the Earl's estate. He takes advantage of the fact that his assistant, Captain Alex Randall, is on leave in England and orders him to escort his wife to India.
Captain Randall, who is very well aware of his Superior's reputation and lifestyle, is against the idea of his marriage to an impressionable young girl, and when he meets Winter and is instantly drawn to her, he tries to warn her off the marriage. Winter however, who was in love with the idea of returning to the India of her childhood and who viewed Conway through the rose-tinted spectacles of distant memory, was having none of it and bitterly resented Alex's interference.
They undertook the slow voyage to India under the kindly chaperonage of Mrs Arbuthnot and her two daughters Lottie and Sophie. Once in India, a too ardent suitor, drives Winter into running to Conway and it is only too late, when they are already married, that she learns to her horror what he is really like.
As the tensions rise in the Bartons marriage, the politics and landscape of India begin to boil and seethe with discontent. Faced with a disastrous marriage and her growing attraction to Alex, suddenly Winter finds herself immersed in trying to survive through the horror and tragedy of the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
M.M Kaye, who died in in 2004 aged 95, came from a prominent Anglo-Indian family and had been brought up in India. Her knowledge of the country and love of it's diverse peoples and landscapes shines through the writing. She is also very knowledgable about the historical aspects of the Indian Mutiny and is very even-handed in how she tells both sides of the story.
So you will need a long, cool drink and some little snacks as you escape into a world of moonlit palace gardens, deep jungles and teeming bazaars. An ideal book for the beside the pool on a long hot afternoon or on a long plane journey.