Review: The Shadow of the Moon, M. M. Kaye

The review in a moment. But first, thank you to whatever lovely person nominated me for Best Eclectic Book Blog for Book Blogger Appreciation Week. Whoever you are, you are so very sweet and kind. You can’t see me, but I am making a heart shape with my forefingers and thumbs, to indicate that I Appreciate you too.

On Labor Day weekend, I went to stay with my relatives. Legal Sister came too. It was so pleasant. I left on Friday afternoon and spent the weekend lying around reading The Shadow of the Moon (in the hammock when sunny, on the couch when not), making delicious cookies and cinnamon-sugar pretzels, watching my beautiful darlings on a Duck-hunt (which is to say, watched them win a game and simultaneously not be slagged off by the announcers, which, seriously, y’all have no idea how rare that is), and generally being decadent. The Shadow of the Moon was the perfect book for my decadent weekend.

Written by M. M. Kaye, who also wrote The Far Pavilions and The Ordinary Princess, The Shadow of the Moon is a long epic tale that culminates in the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Raised for the first six years of her life in Oudh, then the next eleven years in England with her chilly, unfriendly British family, heiress Winter de la Ballesteros has been sent out to India to be married to an officer of the Raj, Conway Barton, who — unbeknownst to her — is a drunkard and a womanizer. She falls in love with Barton’s competent, clever second-in-command, Alex Randall, who is doing his best to warn his fellow Britons to change their ways and avert the impending revolution by Indians tired of mismanagement and incompetence in the government.

Please don’t judge me for how much I love this book. Although Kaye makes it clear that her sympathies lie mostly with India, and not with the blustery British commanders who swear that their sepoys are utterly loyal and would never turn against them, there’s still some uncomfortable little racial moments, and the Indian characters are poorly developed. This is, I think, a function of the setting: Alex and Winter’s positions don’t give them the opportunity for extended interactions with the Indians. Kaye does better with this in The Far Pavilions. In any case, the book gives the sympathetic characters a pass on colonialism by setting them in opposition to the nasty characters causing all the trouble in India.

That disclaimer aside, I love love love love love this book. I love it. It’s all, you know, going about on ships, and then beautiful heiresses grieving their conservative relations by liking India too much, and stolen kisses on moonlit nights to a background of traditional ballads. Oh, and a whole lot of slaughter. And self-righteousness. And some sharks.

You know what I really want? What I really want the very most right now is a book about the Raj that is epistolary. An epistolary book about the Raj. That would be so good I would barely be able to take it. Does anyone know of such a book? Set around this same time, but epistolary? Can that be a thing that exists? (Not The White Tiger. Wrong time period, and I like my protagonists sympathetic, thank you.)

Nobody else in the whole Book Blogs Search Engine has read this book. I wish someone else would read it and then write about it so I wouldn’t be the only one on the internet. It is lonely to be the only one on the internet.

35 thoughts on “Review: The Shadow of the Moon, M. M. Kaye

  1. Oh wow, I’ve had a second hand copy of this for ages but haven’t read it. I think I was scared it would pale in comparison to her other book The Far Pavilions but after reading your review I know I’ll have to finally read it.

    • Jill, I recognize that this was a rather lukewarm review. I know that I could have been sincere in my enthusiasm. I will try to enjoy a book more next time so that all my reviews won’t be so curmudgeonly.

  2. Nice review, Jenny! One of my friends was an M.M.Kaye fan and she used to recommend all her books including this and ‘The Far Pavilions’. On epistolary Raj novels, there is one I read called ‘One Last Look’ by Susanna Moore. It is not really epistolary – most of it is composed of dairy entries of the main character, though I suspect there were a few letters too. The novel is based on actual diary entries of a few British women who lived or travelled across India in the early to middle 1800s and so the description of people and places and events is very authentic. The story of ‘One Last Look’ starts during 1836 and so it is closer to the period that you are interested in. If you do get to read it, I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  3. I keep meaning to read more by her since ‘The Far Pavillions’ (or revisit TFP but that seems daunting, because it is hoooge). Thanks for the reminder and the background on how she approaches Indian characters in this book.

  4. The Far Pavilions has the distinction of being the book I see most on the shelves of motels (yes, the ones in Grinnell, Iowa have bookshelves), apartments like the Citadines in Paris and London, and beach houses around Charleston, SC. I think I read it a million years ago when I had time and patience for sprawling epics. You make that sound attractive again.

    • Indeed, on the shelves of motels? I never see it! When I was in England I was perishing from wanting to read this book and The Far Pavilions and I couldn’t find them anywhere.

  5. Yay! I can help here, as I just finished an epistolary book about the Raj. It was called The Sandalwood Tree and it took place in two time periods that alternated in the story line. Both were about the Raj, and some bits were even about the sepoy revolution. It was also about the partition of India when the Raj is ending. I think you would really like it! Of course, there was a big human component to the tale as well, but I think it might be just what you are looking for!

  6. Have you read The Ordinary Princess then, or were you just mentioning it as a touchstone? I discovered it as an adult, and I know that I would have loooooved it if I’d discovered it as a child. It’s quite lovely, and, if you haven’t already given it a try, I think you’d like it.

  7. Jenny! I have read it! A very long time ago, when I was a teenager and mourning the fact I did not have a heart-shaped faced and blue-black hair and horrible relatives. I loved it too, despite its shortcomings.

  8. I read and loved all of M.M. Kaye’s book in my late teens / early twenties. Your review has reminded me how much I loved them and that it is maybe time to read them again.

  9. I’m surprised nobody else has read it. It’s the most common book at my local thrift store. For years, I’ve paused in front of it and thought, “Maybe I should read that. There are always a million copies here, and I had such good luck with buying one of the million copies of Joan Osbourne’s Relish that always crop up in the CD section. Maybe this is the literary equivalent of “St Teresa [which is among my favouritest songs ever].”

    But then I don’t buy it, because it’s almost always in hardcover. If I ever do buy it, I promise to review it and add another voice to the Book Blogs Search Engine.

  10. I almost picked up The Far Pavilions at the library some time ago, but I think I had another big book out at the time and knew I didn’t have the time then to tackle it. This book sounds good too.

  11. Have you read her autobiography? Golden Morning/Sun in the Afternoon/Enchanted Evening … it would keep you going for a while! Wonderful descriptions of playing on top of the Taj Mahal as a little girl, her great romance with her husband (who became the hero of all her books). I met her once when she was very old, a complete delight.

  12. I just reread the book, after having read it years ago. LOVE this book too. Thanks for reviewing it. I agree with everything you said. I read it after Far Pavilions, but always liked it better!

    • I’ve always liked it better too, but on this most recent reread, I’m suddenly not sure! Now I need to reread The Far Pavilions in order to make a fair comparison.

  13. I love love love Shadow of the Monn. Its is not as sanctimonious as The Far Pavilions – I know the Raj had its bad points but I find the mental handringing of Ash in TFP a bit wearing, I love Alex Randall. I hope they never make a film of it, I wouldn’t want my mental picture of him to be replaced by an actor!

  14. Many, many years ago, I read The Shadow of the Moon of Kaye for the first time. Since then I try to re-read it once a year. I loved the book as well I did with The far pavillions. I haven´t read The Ordinary Princess and, of course, I long for finding it in my conuntry and read it. So, You are not the only one, as I see the coments you have now. Greetings.

  15. Oh, you’re not alone! XD .. I read this book in February 2008, at age of 17 years old ! My mother had this book at home and she advised him! On the right I was much more captivated by the story of Sabrina from her daughter, but only for a purely physiognomic, being Sabrina blonde and I saw me more in the European girlthan in Spanish beauty of her daughter! However, already in its third reading I fell in love with Alex! It ‘s foolish to fall in love a character on paper but it’s so beautiful, like having a talisman of joy on the heart, shining, secret and intimate! Then, let’s face it, Alex is handsome, intelligent, bold, blunt and cold, but also sweet and loving .. who would not want a guy so in a crisis situation? XD
    I wanted, however, to know the name of the son of Winter! And I breathed a sigh of relief when she did not die in childbirth as her mother, as her grandmother Louisa and great-grandmother Selina!
    However, I have always struggled to find a convincing explanation for the visions of Sabrina of a brunette girl with a “wide crinoline” (during pregnancy, at the residence of Lunjore) .. and for those of Winter of a blonde girl with old-fashioned clothes .. of course Sabrina , while she carees her in her womb, sees the adult daughter and Winter sees the ghost of Sabrina .. I know that in the book they are almost all both protagonists in comparison, mother and daughter … but why these visions? Maybe..the magic of India?XD

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