I’m a big fan of the author- better known as the historian Miranda Carter- and last year I read her excellent biography of the three rulers embroiled in World War I (read the review on my other blog here.) I did, however, approach the novel with caution- after all, many historians find the switch from fact to fiction difficult.
On the surface, this novel is very different from the biographies the author has tackled before; it tells the story of a young recruit to the East India Company, William Avery, who finds himself up to his eyeballs in debt, European smugness and naivety in 1830’s Calcutta. His cushy life becomes entangled with an eccentric loner, Jeremiah Blake, after the two are charged with finding, and bringing back, British India’s most lauded poet (and Avery’s hero), Xavier Mountstuart. However, to do so, they must face the dangerous ‘Thugee’, bandits who kill indiscriminately. But is this the only danger they face on their journey across the subcontinent?
Altogether, Carter has made a successful transition to novelist and this was an enjoyable novel, although sometimes the historical details bogged down the narrative a bit. This was helped by a glossary at the back, but it’s clear that old habits sometimes die hard! This did mean that it was hard to get into the book at the start, but once I was used to the style, it got easier.
The descriptions of India and its traditions were vivid and brought the country and the time period to life. I also generally liked the characters, particularly Blake and Mountstuart, who were typical Bristish eccentrics with more than a dash of Conan-Doyle-ism to them; indeed one of the critics’ comments is that it has more than a little Sherlock in the mix. As this is the first of a series, I expect that Blake will continue to drive Avery mad back in England…