A beautiful, ornate, richly-coloured cover pulled me into a story that was every bit as special.
It began in India at the end of the 19th century, a strange and unfamiliar country to a young bride from England, expecting her first child. I was pulled right into her world from the very first page; it came alive on the page. I felt her confusion and her wonder, and I was so very, very sorry that she died in childbirth.
Alice was the child who was left behind. Her father kept her close, her ayah cared for her, and she grew up to love them and the world around her so dearly. But her father had responsibilities, and he knew that he had to send Alice home to England, to be educated, to be raised as a lady should be.
He sent Alice to live with her Aunt Mercy in Windsor. Alice’s aunt was a medium, a very successful medium, and in time even Queen Victoria would summon her, to try to make contact with her beloved Albert. Sadly though, she was lacking in any sort of maternal instinct, and an unhappy Alice soon began to wonder how she could escape cold, grey uncaring England and return to her warm, colourful loving India.
But Aunt Mercy and her gentleman caller, Mr Tilsbury, had plans for Alice. They pulled her into their scheme to steall the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond, a gem said to be both blessed and cursed, that had been claimed by the British Empire at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars.
And, of course, there were others – from England and from India – who wanted the diamond …..
The plot was elaborate and the plotters were ruthless. Alice was betrayed, seduced, abused and abandoned; she knew that she had to find a way to survive and break free, but she had no idea who she could trust, and she made mistakes and misjudgements.
I could say more, but this is far to good a story to spoil. Its written in wonderfully rich, descriptive prose, and it twists and turns beautifully; sometimes in directions that are quite unexpected and rather fanciful, but it always works. Because Alice and her world are so fully and beautifully realised, because I was drawn in, because I cared and reacted to everything that happened.
I loved the way that the story of Shiva and Pravati, and stories of her family, were woven into Alice’s own story. The contrast between India and England was very, very effective, and there were so many lovely things to notice along the way: bookish references, period details, real history – everything you could want.
Essie Fox brought a wealth of knowledge and wonderful imagination to her story. It is told so beautifully, so cleverly, and her love of what she wrote shone from the pages. That made turning those pages completely irresistible.
And it pulled from me the same love of books and the story that I remember having as a child. I caught myself thinking, ‘I don’t want to go to work, I want to stay here and read my book!’
Later, of course, I didn’t want it to end.
But when it came the ending was perfect: there was high drama, and a lovely little twist.
I do miss Alice, who I grew to love, but that gave me a little clue about what her future might hold. I do hope I was right …