Book Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

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India, 1922: It is rainy season in the lush, remote Sahyadri mountains, where the princely state of Satapur is tucked away. A curse seems to have fallen upon Satapur’s royal family, whose maharaja died of a sudden illness shortly before his teenage son was struck down in a tragic hunting accident. The state is now ruled by an agent of the British Raj on behalf of Satapur’s two maharanis, the dowager queen and her daughter-in-law.
The royal ladies are in a dispute over the education of the young crown prince, and a lawyer’s counsel is required. However, the maharanis live in purdah and do not speak to men. Just one person can help them: Perveen Mistry, Bombay’s only female lawyer. Perveen is determined to bring peace to the royal house and make a sound recommendation for the young prince’s future, but she arrives to find that the Satapur palace is full of cold-blooded power plays and ancient vendettas. Too late, she realizes she has walked into a trap. But whose? And how can she protect the royal children from the palace’s deadly curse?

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I’ve been very excited to read the sequel to the very fascinating new series starter The Widows of Malabar Hill, but I had to wait this long to receive the copy from the library. This one turned to be an engaging read as well, but maybe not at par with the first.

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The pacing of this novel is slow and steady as I expected it to be. The main change is that this one takes place completely out of Bombay, in a small princely state in the Sahyadri mountains. There were a lot of excellent descriptions about the landscape, the flora and fauna, weather changes and the different methods of travel within this princely state, and I felt totally mesmerized by it all. I could almost feel that I was traveling right alongside Perveen and it made for a very atmospheric read. We also get to know quite a bit about the Indian Civil Service, how the British and the princely states coexisted and how the administration meddled in Royal matters, particularly in the case of succession. We also get some interesting observations on caste system and discrimination that exists across religions, and insight into the plight of Anglo-Indians. There is also the mystery part, which I thought was written quite well. The author gave us enough misdirection that I couldn’t guess the culprit almost till the end.

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The highlight of the first book for me was Perveen. While we got to know more of her personal history along with her current efforts to work as a solicitor in the previous installment, so much of that personal touch was missing here. Her being chosen to talk to the queens due to purdah is pretty repetitive but the events that follow definitely felt more ominous. She is also much more in danger this time around and she felt the fear, but she also took her responsibilities seriously and acted with a lot of unexpected calm in distressing situations, which was pretty impressive. My only bone to pick is that we don’t see a lot of character development for her, except a few instances when we see her longing for some sort of companionship and wanting to get out of the clutches of her marriage. Colin, the political agent was nice guy but he was a bit too laidback and didn’t seem to be taking his job very seriously. However, he didn’t seem to be suffering from the usual misogynistic ideas of the time and treated her with a lot of respect, which I really liked. None of the other characters left too much of an impression on me, except perhaps choti rani Mirabai who had to fight both deep personal losses and antagonistic family members to ensure the safety of her children and better administration of her state.

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Overall, this was a moderately engaging read with a great sense of place, but seemed to suffer a bit from the second book syndrome. I still like the main character a lot and can’t wait to see more of her professional pursuits in future books. If you would like to read interesting mystery novels set in pre-independence India featuring a Parsi female lawyer who has to fight for her right to practice law, you should definitely give this series a try.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

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  1. Oooh I haven’t heard of this series but it sounds lovely. How am I so not informed of Indian authors? ☹️
    It’s a good thing I have you ❤️❤️ loved your review as always Sahi. I’m interested to read about Colin because you specifically mentioned how he behaves around the protagonist.

    On a complete aside, have you heard of 96 Words for Love by Rachel Roy? Apparently it’s based on Shakunthala and Dhushyantha. *squeals*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha it’s ok Ahana.. some authors are just not so hyped, especially because of the genres they write in.. I discovered this series purely by accident but it’s definitely very fascinating 😊😊
      And yes, 96 Words for Love was on my tbr at the beginning of the year but I removed it later… I guess it had some mixed reviews and I had too many others to read… but do tell me if you get to read it 😃😃😃

      Liked by 1 person

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