Sunday, 13 August 2017

Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye

"Winter!  Who ever heard of such a name?"

Set during the great Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Shadow of the Moon follows the life of Winter, Condesa de Ballesteros who is the daughter of a Spanish nobleman and an English mother.  Leaving India for England an orphan at the age of six, she is raised by her great-grandfather the Earl of Ware, but a match is made for her at the tender age of eleven to a man twenty years her senior, and at seventeen she prepares to leave for India escorted by Captain Alex Randall, the subordinate of her betrothed, Conway Barton, the Commissioner of the Lunjore district.  From the beginning, Winter is attracted to Randall’s self-confident demeanour and somewhat brash independence, yet while she appreciates his care of her, she is also affronted at times by his behaviour and the two develop a mutual attraction that is complicated by circumstance and convention.  Although Winter remembers her fiancé as a rather jovial pleasant figure who offers safety and security, Randall is convinced that once she sees the debauched, womanizing lout, nothing in the world would convince her to marry him. 

Yet what becomes more of a concern is the rumblings in India of disquiet and unrest, as the British East India company's presence has long been resented.  A company originally formed for trade and at one point accounting for half of the world's trade, the British East India Company had expropriated not only the goods of the country of India, but its territories as well.  At the time of this story, there is discontentment among the Indian people due to heavy-handed British social reforms, unfair taxes, and the treatment of some of the nobility of the country.  In this case, the fuse that lit the mutiny was Indian sepoy officers being given cartridges smeared with pig and cow fat which they have to bite off, a practice that would be an anathema to both Hindus and Muslims due to their religious beliefs.  In spite of rumours murmured in secret meetings and bazaars of a mutiny so great not one Englishman will be left alive, the British commanders continue to trust their Indian armies, and stubbornly refuse to heed the signs of disaffection and suspicion.  While Randall attempts to convince his British contemporaries of the dangers, there are still parties and gaieties galore among the English ex-patriots and one wonders at their willful blindness.

The ruins of the Residency at Lucknow and the
gunfire it received
source Wikipedia
This historical aspect of this novel was fascinating.  Kaye communicated the various personages and political posturing in a highly realistic manner, from the blind stubbornness of the British commanders, to the insightful planning of Sir Henry Lawrence; from the rebel attacks in Delhi, to the flight of the British characters in their attempts to escape the carnage, the reader is treated to a highly developed and suspenseful plot that keeps him riveted to the pages.  Kaye also weaves a descriptive masterpiece of the settings of India and one can feel the heat radiating from the land, hear the chatter of the people in the bazaars, sense the tension between races and the suppressed passion between Winter and Alex Randall.  

The Sepoy revolt at Meerut
from Illustrated London News, 1857
source Wikipedia
Sadly, the romance in the novel was the most disappointing part.  Randall appeared rather self-absorbed for the greater part of the book, his job and political responsibilities often overshadowing any love or caring or attention that he could have shown Winter, and the uncomfortableness of her situation (a married woman) combined with Randall's independent and sometimes abrasive character quelled any feelings of satisfaction that might have been generated by their love story.  Winter also had a penchant for overreacting with an exaggerated response that would cause her to make unwise decisions which would either damage her position, or needlessly complicate her life. While it perhaps added to the plot, it was often annoying and not necessarily believable. Randall himself displayed a character that was not particularly warm or generous towards women; I could understand Winter's attraction to him, but I also thought their future life would be fraught with discontent and unrest, very much like the India they inhabited.

Here is an article written by M.M. Kaye on her writing of Shadow of the Moon, which I found interesting and illuminating.  In spite of a few reservations about the romance aspect, the rest of the novel was highly enjoyable and I thank Cirtnecce for her read-along.  If you want to read more about the book and the Indian Sepoy mutiny, please see her post on the Company Raj and her post on The Landscape of the Mutiny.

4 comments:

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this, even though you found the romance disappointing. I liked Alex more than you did, I think, but I do understand why you had reservations about his relationship with Winter. The history is fascinating, though - and I loved the vivid descriptions of India!

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    1. I liked Alex as a hero of the uprisings, but not so much as a romantic partner. I suppose I'm just being too realistic lately .... I'll have to get over it! ;-)

      I'm so glad you enjoyed it! We'll have to get together and all read Trade Wind and The Far Pavillions together at some later date!

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  2. i've been struck by the blindness of the British as regards the Indian people; from what i've read, they were so caught up in their artificial social networking that the vast populations of India seemed nonexistent... and it was such a surprise to them that they had anything to complain about... and of course the armed overreaction that precipitated a full scale rebellion... i suppose what they say about hindsight is really true in a lot of cases...

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    1. Hey, Mudpuddle, it's so good to hear from you again! :-) So, in spite of all our self-centeredness and entitlement of today, perhaps humanity has always been that way. It reminds me of the saying, forgive them for they know not what they do; there was certainly an element that thought the Indian people were benefitting and that they were doing good, but there was also an element who didn't care either way. It shows the lack of empathy of people ... the inability to walk in another man's shoes. My, my, I'm full of clichés today, aren't I? ;-)

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