Books: Standing the Test of Time

Shadow of the MoonShadow of the Moon

Review by Jenna Jaxon

Recently, I began re-reading M. M. Kaye’s romance Shadow of the Moon (probably about the 8th time I’ve read it—my first copy fell apart) and while the love story is as wonderful as it ever was, and the descriptions of India are truly magnificent—you can believe you are there—the writing style, jumps out at me as having a lot of things I’ve been taught not to do. How does one judge a work that was written in a different time, with different stylistic expectations?

Shadow of the Moon, set in England and India in the years leading up to the India Mutiny of 1857, is the story of young Winter de Ballesteros, born of an English woman and a Spaniard who met and fell in love in India. Winter is orphaned almost from infancy and raised in a wealthy Indian household. At age six, she is sent back to her relatives in England, where she lives, unappreciated, until she returns to India to marry a distant relative, a Commissioner of the Indian state of Lunjore, she met once and who she has romanticized into a shining knight, able to return her to the wonderful life she remembered there. The Commissioner’s handsome aide, Alex Randall, reluctantly escorts Winter to India, hoping his charge will have the sense to break the engagement when she discovers the truth about her betrothed.

Winter’s dream shatters when she realizes—too late—her knight in shining armor is an older, drunken, debauched man who is only after her wealth. Now trapped in a loveless marriage in the midst of a foreign country on the brink of a violent explosion, Winter works together with Alex to try to prevent the crisis and deny their feelings for one another. In the aftermath of the brutal mutiny, more dangers threaten Alex and Winter and their future happiness.

Residency-Lucknow

The Residence at Lucknow after the India Mutiny

 

I have loved this book, as well as Kaye’s masterpiece The Far Pavillions, since I first read them, though I did wonder how the writing would hold up now that I read as a writer moreso than a reader. Written in 1956, Shadow of Moon includes several things no longer acceptable in the romance genre: head-hopping, a third person narrator, and pages of backstory on the politics and history of 18th and 19th century India. The head-hopping, changing point of view from character to character is constant throughout the book, though after a while it no longer bothered me. The use of a third person narrator helps both with the historical perspective and with the lack of deep POV from the hero and heroine. Again, it takes some getting used to, but as the book is 800 pages long, you come to embrace it along the way. The historical/political backstory, however, I fouOnlyAMistressWillDond myself skipping over in great chunks in favor of getting to the romance. I do not believe the reader’s enjoyment of the book is in any way compromised by doing this and if one finds such things fascinating, it is wonderful contextual reading.

I do recommend this book to lovers of historical romance. Both Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavillions have made me put a trip to India on my bucket list of things to do. I would love to see some of these storybook palaces, ride horseback on the plains, experience a colorful bazaar myself and in some tangible way relive these masterful stories first hand.

12 thoughts on “Books: Standing the Test of Time

    • Thank you, Donna. Yes, the older books I read in my youth, by MM Kaye and Mary Steward, are so much fun to go back and read. And it’s amazing how well they hold up. I sure keep reading them.

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    • The descriptions are so detailed you can almost see the places and the places–palaces, villages, cities–really make you want to visit the country. And I know what you mean about The Secret Garden. That’s why I love English gardens so much.

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  1. I absolutely love The Far Pavilions and Shadow of the Moon (though TFP is my favorite). I thoroughly enjoy the way MM Kaye develops her back story, and to me, this is important, since the lifestyle in India at that time is something I had no inkling of and would have been quite loss as to why things happened as they did. I like reading ‘both sides of the story’, so to speak. Her books are very historically accurate–did you know her husband was a British Indian officer, and most of her male relations served there as well? Anyway, thanks so much for revisiting this story! I’d dig mine out of storage and re-read them, but, alas they have fallen apart 🙂 I’ll be looking for an ebook copy this time 🙂

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    • I loved The Far Pavilions too! Did you ever see the TV mini-series? Ben Cross was a wonderful Ash. I’ve worn out copies of both of them too. LOL Such sweeping romance. And yes, I’ve read a bit about MM Kaye and her life was extraordinary. No wonder her books are so rich in their historical perspective.

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