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.

The Ordinary Princess, M.M. Kaye

I am so pleased I got this book!  I got it in hardback!  For eight dollars!  At Bongs & Noodles, totally unexpectedly!  This, and jPod, and a hardback of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I know, right?), and a nice new copy of Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, and The Annotated Alice (the annotations are ever so interesting), and for twenty dollars altogether total, all seven of the Chronicles of Narnia on CD, read by cool people like Lynn Redgrave and Kenneth Branagh.  But of all these things, I am the most pleased with The Ordinary Princess.

The eponymous princess, Amy, is the youngest of seven princesses, each more beautiful than the last.  At her christening, the water fairy Crustacea comes and announces “You shall be ordinary!”  Which is just what Amy grows up to be, mousy hair and freckles and a turned-up nose, and when she’s of marriageable age nobody wants to marry her, and what with one thing and another she runs away and gets a job as a scullery maid in another kingdom.  There she meets a very agreeable man-of-all-work called Perry, and on their days off, they hang out in the forest feeding nuts to squirrels and building a little cottage for themselves.  (Until all is discovered.)

M.M. Kaye is so mysterious.  She wrote two books about India, Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions, which I really enjoyed.  She wrote a series of mysteries, which I found terribly tedious.  She wrote a book called Trade Winds in which the protagonist gets raped and falls in love with her rapist and they live happily ever after, which I’m not even going to get into because it makes me so furious.  And then she wrote The Ordinary Princess, the loveliest book ever.

I can see how this book would sound totally saccharine – Amy hums merry songs while she does her drudgery work, and she has animal friends with names that follow her around.  She talks to her wisteria vine and likes picking wildflowers with the local maidens.  This talking to plants and animals and frolicking in meadows tends to be the sort of thing about which my mother puts on her old lady voice and snaps “Too sweet to be wholesome!”  EXCEPT THAT, M.M. Kaye obviously decided that every time she started to be saccharine, she would stop being saccharine and be AWESOME instead.

True story.

Moreover, in case this story wasn’t already genius enough (it was), M.M. Kaye illustrated it herself, and I have rarely read a book in which the illustrations went so well with the story.  Not even The Ghost of Opalina.  Amy looks exactly like you’d think she would – ordinary.  Not ugly.  Just ordinary.  And Perry, who is introduced as “the nice young man” looks like an exactly nice young man.  I would go out with Perry.  He offers her illicit ice cream, and makes her a necklace out of acorn cups.

I can’t imagine why anyone would not like The Ordinary Princess.  Do you have books like that, where you really can’t see any reason for anybody, ever, to dislike it?  Is it because they’re stunningly good, or because they’re just friendly and likeable?