Author: Essie Fox, 2013.
Genre: 19th Century England and India. Myths. Spiritualism.
Other Details: Hardback. 310 pages.
Uprooted from her home in India, Alice is raised by her aunt, a spiritualist medium in Windsor. When the mysterious Mr Tilsbury enters their lives, Alice is drawn into a plot to steal the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond, claimed by the British Empire at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars. Said to be both blessed and cursed, the sacred Indian stone exerts its power over all who encounter it: a handsome deposed maharajah determined to claim his rightful throne, a man hell-bent on discovering the secrets of eternity, and a widowed queen who hopes the jewel can draw her husband's spirit back. In the midst of all this madness, Alice must discover a way to regain control of her life and fate... - synopsis from UK publisher's website.
This proved to be another wonderful novel from Essie Fox, which captures the essence of the Victorian Gothic melodrama with perfection. Into its rich narrative are woven themes of colonialism, the mythology of India, and the lore surrounding the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which also featured recently in the plot of Fay Weldon's Long Live the King. Interestingly in Weldon's novel fake spiritualists and the Royal Family's interest in the subject were also part of the plot.
I have deep respect for Ms. Fox's historical research and her ability to write sympathetic and complex characters as well as telling a rollicking tale. Here Alice proved a very likeable ingénue, her Aunt Mercy a somewhat tragic figure and Lucian Tilsbury, a charismatic baddie. It was easy to see how the women fell under his influence.
There are a few unanswered questions at the end of the novel that hint at the possibility that the story might one day be continued. I hope so for as much as I appreciate stand-alone novels some do cry out for further exposition. This blend of Eastern and Western mysticism, which only deepened as the 19th Century progressed, as well as the turbulent relationship between Britain and India seems a rich vein for further exploration. That Ms. Fox manages to integrate quite serious themes into her narrative is another testimony to her skill as a writer and makes her novels far more than tributes to the Victorian Gothic melodrama. She includes a bibliography and other material at the conclusion of the novel about the real life events that informed her narrative.
In terms of the mystical aspects I can only praise Ms. Fox's blending of tales of the Hindu pantheon into the text along with a sensitive portrayal of the Victorian interest in Spiritualism.
Orion deserves a special mention for the beautiful covers they've created for all of Essie Fox's novels, which in hardback have a textured surface. I am planning to recommend this novel to my reading group once it is published in paperback at the end of 2014 as I feel it is not only a good read but contains interesting points for discussion. I'll be also looking out for her future work with interest.
Essie Fox's page on 'The Goddess and the Thief' - contains links to an extract and lovely artwork on her Pinterest page including images of the inspirations for her characters and various Hindu gods and goddesses.