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Long-winded yarn stuffed with clichés, saved by the exotic setting and some historical detail
on 29 February 2016
I read this straight after finishing Valerie Fitzgerald's 'Zemindar', desperate to continue my literary foray into the events surrounding the 1857 Sepoy Rebellion. 'Zemindar' is a substantially better book, both in terms of craft and characterisation, so I realise that my initial take on 'Shadow of the Moon' might be clouded somewhat. I was certainly disappointed on many levels.
First up, the romantic leads never rang true. Both were too beautiful, too perfect, too 'Mary Sue.' We are constantly reminded about Winter's exotic allure. Her physical appearance is paramount throughout and seems to determine much of her storyline and other characters' responses to her. I had little real sense of her as a multi-dimensional character. Alex fares better on this front but is too much the ideal hero prototype, and his oh-so-brilliant foresight into the realities of Indian society and his coincidental involvement in observing the seeds of the coming conflict are delivered in a heavy handed 'Titanic' style - it's a shortcut to explaining the background to the Indian rebellion, but it's extremely laboured.
The secondary characters do little to improve matters: a range of well-worn stereotypes.
M M Kaye clearly has considerable knowledge of India and its history. Some descriptive passages are highly effective. However, there are clunky detours into historical exposition and unexpected narrative standpoints which jar. The story doesn't quite know what it wants to be: a full-blown record of the events of 1857, or a smaller-scale love story with the rebellion as a larger-than-life, dramatic backdrop. The writer's attempt to craft these together is both unsubtle and, ultmately, unconvincing.
The opening sections focusing on Winter's origins are ridiculously overblown and overlong. I've read that there's an abridged version of the novel which cuts this out, which would have made for a less arduous and frustrating read.