Book Review: The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

November, 1921. Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, is arriving in Bombay to begin a four-month tour. The Indian subcontinent is chafing under British rule, and Bombay solicitor Perveen Mistry isn’t surprised when local unrest over the royal arrival spirals into riots. But she’s horrified by the death of Freny Cuttingmaster, an eighteen-year-old female Parsi student, who falls from a second-floor gallery just as the prince’s grand procession is passing by her college.

Freny had come for a legal consultation just days before her death, and what she confided makes Perveen suspicious that her death was not an accident. Perveen, who strongly identified with Freny—another young Parsi woman fighting hard against the confines of society’s rules and expectations—feels terribly guilty for failing to help her. Perveen steps forward to assist Freny’s family in the fraught dealings of the coroner’s inquest, and when Freny’s death is ruled a murder, Perveen knows she can’t rest until she sees justice done. But Bombay is erupting: as armed British secret service march the streets, rioters attack anyone with perceived British connections and desperate shopkeepers destroy their own wares so they will not be targets of racial violence. Can Perveen help a suffering family when her own is in danger? 

CW: attempted assault

It’s nice sometimes to take a break from fantasy, but I’m still not ready to tackle the real world so historical fiction it is. And it’s always fun to come back to a series I enjoy and meet familiar characters. This is another interesting installment in the series and one I’m glad to continue further.

I’m always impressed by the author’s descriptions of 1920s Bombay because I’m unfamiliar even with the current incarnation of the city, and historical one feels even more fantastical in my head. But the author makes it feel like a living breathing place, one that forms the soul of the story. The tensions in the city, the emergence of a freedom movement that is both nonviolent as well as reactionary, and the rising of the religious divide forms an important backdrop of this story and as always, I’m glad to get to know more about my own country’s history. The writing is evocative and full of emotional depth, making us experience the turbulent atmosphere of the times. The mystery itself was not too predictable, but not too tension inducing either and the resolution was pretty unexpected.

I fall in love with Perveen’s character even more as the series go on and it’s due to her resilience and strength in unfavorable circumstances. But I thought the author showed a much more vulnerable side of her this time, encountering situations where is pretty helpless and also in the matters of the heart. However, it’s nice to see that she has the support of her family, especially her father in professional settings and her best friend Alice who is so sweet. But the author lets us see the complex relationship these characters have with colonial India, the British empire and the Indian freedom movement. There is also a hint of romantic entanglements in this one, which is both endearing and bittersweet, and I hope we’ll get to see much more of the couple as the story continues.

To conclude, this book was a refreshing respite in the middle of all my intense fantasies, but it was no less interesting and emotional. If you enjoy books set in pre-independence India and would love to see a young woman try to overcome the patriarchal sexist rules in both her personal and professional life, then you can’t go wrong with this series.

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