Shadow of the Moon – M. M. Kaye [Review]

Once in awhile I will ask mum what should I read next as she always has a great taste in books. I remember the first time she recommended one of her books- I was looking at her bookshelf scanning the thousand titles. She comes in and asks me what I am I doing. I told her that I finished my book and don’t know what to read next. She came by me and looked at her books and produced a copy of Wish you Well by David Baldacci. She gave it to me and assured me that I would love it. She was right. From then on I went to her when I needed to read something different or really good and so far all her recommendations have been brilliant. This time she recommended M. M. Kaye books and told me to start with Shadow of the Moon. I just finished it today and I LOVED it! Mum was right once again. I got hooked from the first page and was transported back to India in 1856-7.

Shadow of the Moon is the story of Winter de Ballesteros, a beautiful half Spanish- half shadow of the moon2English heiress who was born in India, but raised in England after being orphaned at a young age. Winter has never known kindness from her English family, with the exception of her great-grandfather, and longs to return to India where she was the most happiest. When she was seventeen she was visited by an acquaintance of the family named Conway Barton. Conway was tall, blonde and handsome and was kind to Winter.He was stationed in India and reminded Winter of all the wonders of India. Soon she becomes engaged to Conway, she thinks it’s love but he is after her inheritance. Shadow of the Moon is also the story of Captain Alex Randall, her escort  back to India and protector, who works for her betrothed and knows that he is not the man she once knew and that he has become a debauched  wreck of a man. When India bursts into flaming hatred and bitter bloodshed, the reader soon gets caught into the politics of the Indian mutiny and becomes part of the horrors that come with a revolution. Alex and Winter are thrown into the brutal and vital struggle of survival.

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M. M. Kaye

M. M. Kaye was born in India, where she lived most of her life. Her love for that country is evident in her writing and brilliant descriptions of India. As someone has already pointed out, her assessment of Anglo-Indian relations during the time of the British Raj is ”infused in the characters of her spellbinding novel. With exotic, mid-eighteenth century India as a backdrop for most of this engrossing story, the reader is swept away by its beautifully descriptive narrative”. Kaye is undoubtedly a gifted author who has a way of creating beautiful imagery and invoking the sounds, smells and sights that transport the reader into the world of her characters and her beloved India. Winter is not the typical English Rose and while she will never rival her cousin Sybella’s classic and fashionable beauty, a few select men prefer Winter to Sybella (more so for her fortune than anything else!). When she was a child Winter was described as a plain creature, not beautiful and it was commented that her fortune was her only positive feature. However, she grew into a lovely, slender woman with enormous dark eyes, silky black hair reaching to her knees when unbound, and a heart-shaped face with ivory skin. She knows four languages, as she kept speaking the Indian language even when she moved away to England. It is remarked that Winter does not admire her beauty which makes you like her even more. As far as Captain Alex Randall is concerned. Oh Alex! He is the perfect hero in this story. He’s brave, hardworking, sometimes brutally honest (which is needed in some cases), sensual, handsome and extremely intelligent. His ability with languages ensures that he can pass as a member of India’s Pathan minority and might save his life in certain occasions. In addition, Alex has the rare ability to see all sides of an issue, and sometimes empathizes more with the Indians than with the British, which makes you love him even more.

Shadow of the Moon is richly plotted, peopled with well-drawn and unforgettable characters, bolstered by an incredible depth of background detail and historical fact throughout, and with overriding suspense which builds to a heart-breaking last 200 pages. Be prepared for some gory, though accurate, portrayal of the violence against the British (including women and children) during the rebellion. Once the mutiny starts you literary cannot put the book down as you know that many of the characters that you’ve come to love or hate might not survive in the end. But it’s so much more than simply a book about the Indian Mutiny. The author carefully brings us toward the shocking outbreak of violence and horror that is the Mutiny by building up quiet scenes of unrest and the growing relationship between our beloved main characters, Alex and Winter.

When reading various reviews of this book after I finished it, I came across this person called Hannah on goodreads.com and absolutely loved her review/comment for this book. I loved it so much, as well as agree with it, that I am going to re-write it in this post for many more to see. Hannah, rightly comments that ”If Gone with the Wind was Margaret Mitchell’s love letter to the old South, then Shadow of the Moon is M.M. Kaye’s to historic India”. M. M. Kaye manages to show us the unfolding beauty of India while slowly she is preparing us for the horrific Sepoy Rebellion.

I will finish this post by saying that Shadow of the Moon is both a wonderfully written work  of historical fiction and a beautifully told historical romance. Winter is a plucky heroine and Alex is a swoon worthy hero.  It’s a book that I am certain I will re-read in the years to come and a book that will stay with you for a few days after finishing it. The historical, political background is very engaging and interesting which would not disappoint any historical fiction readers. Even if you do not like historical fiction , I assure you that you will love this book.

”A closely interwoven story of love and war whose descriptive prose is so evocative that you can actually see and – much more – smell India as the country assaults you from the page”(Sunday Telegraph)

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— K.J. Koukas

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The Turn of the Screw – Henry James [Review]

One evening my friend Mary and I were discussing books over a cup of coffee, as we usually do. This time we were talking about gothic novels due to the fact that we had just watched BBC’s The Art of Gothic  Britain’s Midnight Hour. The Brontes came up as they usually do in our discussions, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and many more. Mary told me that she has not read Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, I told her that she should when she got the time as Northanger Abbey is not a typical Jane Austen book. It is different from her others and you can tell from the theme of the book and the various circumstances that appear. However, Northanger Abbey will have to wait for another post as I could go on forever. Whilst I recommended Northanger Abbey to Mary, she recommended Turn of a Screw by Henry James to me. She had loved the book when she first read it and told me that it will disturb me and leave a chill. I was intrigued and borrowed her copy of Turn of the Screw and started reading.

turn of the screw2One thing I can tell about this novel. She was right, I was greatly disturbed by the children in this book. Especially Miles as he acts and talks like an adult which creped me out immensely. The story begins with an unknown narrator, who listens to Douglas, a friend, read a manuscript written by a former governess whom Douglas claims to have known. The manuscript tells the story of a young governess hired by a man  who has become responsible for his nephew and niece after their parents had died. He lives in London while the children and governess live in the countryside. He wants to have nothing to do with the care of the children.  The children, Miles and Flora, are not the typical sweet children you would expect. They are described as beautiful, angelic and majestic… how can one not love them!  Are they as innocent as they seem? Soon, the young governess starts seeing two ghosts and it seems to be the ghosts of Miss Jessel (the previous governess who died under a mysterious circumstance) and that of Peter Quint, a previous employee. Do the children see the ghosts or not? Or is it the imagination of the young governess? She sees them peering in threateningly through the window, standing silently and starting at the children from the top of the tower.

This story is absolutely chilling and very clever. It’s a story within a story, told as a ghost story. It is dark and melodramatic, telling the story of good and evil with hints of sexual relations, reflecting the Victorian society at the time. Throughout the book you wonder whether the children know about the ghosts and whether they see them.  You wonder whether the governess has gone mad as you only read her side of the story. We don’t get to see what the other characters think about these spirits. However, when the governess describes the figures to the housekeeper, Mrs Grose, the later does not seem to think that she has lost her marbles (as one can put it!) and recognises the spirits as Peter Quint (the late valet) and Miss Jessel ( the late governess). You are still left wondering even if you come to the conclusion that the young governess in not the only one who can see these wandering spirits.

Henry James somehow keeps the tension mounting. His story grows ever grimmer, ever scarier.  You are kept on the edge of your seat (or bed in this instance)  trying to solve the puzzle, solve the mystery. Who is Peter Quint and Miss Jessel? What do they want with the children? What was their relationship?  Is the governess mad or not? It’s the darkest and richest story I have ever read — thus far. I am left wondering whether Miles and Flora did know about the presence of the ghosts and how innocent or guilty they really are in the end. It is left open for the reader to interpret however he or she wants.

I will say this; Turn of the Screw is a very good story, I loved every minute of it, even though I was a bit disturbed in certain passages and was on edge throughout the story. It is a story that stays with the reader, even after the final and shocking last page.  Thank you Mary for recommending this great book to me. 🙂

—- K.J.Koukas