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.
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.
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.
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.