After reading ElCicco’s review of this, I went right out and got myself a copy, and I was not disappointed!
Set in Calcutta, 1837, The East India Company is in full swing. Xavier Mountstuart, a most celebrated English poet and author, has gone missing. Mountstuart is the hero of William Avery, our narrator, who is a junior officer who is drowning in homesickness and debt–and whose best friend has just died mysteriously. He is sent by the Company as a companion to a Mr. Jeremiah Blake to find Mountstuart…somewhere in India.
They are a mismatched pair: Avery is a rookie; Blake obviously has some adventures under his belt. Avery is a Company Man; Blake couldn’t make his distaste for the Company any clearer. Avery is earnest and naive; Blake is surly and cautious. Avery dresses the part of a Company man; Blake is a master of disguise who prefers to dress like “the natives.” Etc.
They venture North in search of Mountstuart and gradually unravel the high-level hijinks behind his disappearance. They also learn about the “Thugs,” a caste of highwaymen who were known to woo travelers with kindness and song before robbing and strangling them. Blake is preoccupied with them, often asking their hosts along the way questions that have very little to do with Mountstuart and much more to do with Company’s style of rule and treatment of the Thuggee threat.
And I’ll let you read the book to find out what the Thugs have to do with Mountstuart.
It took a while for me to fall into the story–a few chapters of set up that felt a tad long winded, but once they got on the road, the pace picked right up and I was hooked. Carter’s descriptions are wonderful and vivid and make you forget you’re reading, and she crafts an imaginative fictional story around interesting and true history, including real-life ex-pats, droughts, published works, and political intrigues. The epilogue with the historical explanations was one of my favorite parts of the book! It’s a fascinating time period and I’m glad that Carter gave us a little glimpse into it.
My biggest complaint is that I thought Avery was not the most interesting person to be telling this story. He’s naive and a little bumbling, and his insights weren’t very keen until the end of the book. I kept wanting this to be in third person. I get that by having Avery narrate it, we learned of the conspiracy in “real time,” and he definitely grew on me, but I couldn’t help but feel that a third person omniscient narrator might have been better suited to Carter’s cinematic writing style.
4/5: I’ve pre-ordered the next in the series.