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Sophie Schofield travels out to India with her doctor father and vicious mother shortly before India's independence - her father has taken a job working for the Maharajah of a small state in the hope of making a fresh start post-World War II and saving his marriage. Soon after her arrival Sophie meets Jagaan ('Jag'), the son of one of the Maharajah's most trusted servants, and they fall passionately in love. But Jag is an Indian, expected to make a marriage within his own caste, and Sophie a British girl in an India where the British are beginning to leave - how can such a love end well? Ten years later, Sophie returns to India, as the wife of diplomat Lucien Grainger. She has tried to tell herself for years that the past is behind her, and that she's made a fresh start. But she can't forget Jagaan - or one other very important person, who she knew so briefly. Nor can she ignore the fact that her glamorous marriage is not turning out the way it should, and that Lucien is far from a good husband...

Alison McQueen's second book shows her growing assurance as a writer - it is far more focussed than 'The Secret Children', and there are less longeurs. As with 'The Secret Children', her knowledge and love of India comes across very clearly. McQueen's descriptions of independence and the subsequent riots and violence in India are superb, as are her accounts of the institutions that took in unwanted babies for adoption, and the confusion of the newly divided India of the 1950s (though at this time wasn't Pakistan divided into two parts, East and West Pakistan?). She's great at capturing the atmosphere of India, and I particularly enjoyed her account of the contrast of the poorer areas of the towns and the grandeur of the imperial palaces - plus the sheer boredom of life in the diplomatic service. The plot is well thought out too, with some surprising twists.

However, like Julia Flyte, I found the characters somewhat simplistic, which weakened the effect of the narrative as a whole. Too many of them - Sophie's philandering alcoholic husband Lucien, her violent alcoholic mother, most of the diplomats and their wives - were one-dimensional fools or villains, while Jagaan and his family and friends were all uniformly noble and honest. McQueen didn't devote enough time to exploring the characters of the young Sophie and Jag, so their passionate love (which I think we were meant to believe was based on physical attraction but also on more profound things) didn't really seem convincing, particularly as the young Sophie came over as so naive. I also found it odd that Jag, if he was so caring and noble, wouldn't have been more aware of the dangers of pregnancy for Sophie, or that Sophie (who as the daughter of a fanatically Christian mother must have known she was taking a major step in sleeping with Jag) wouldn't have known that she was deeply in love with him until he left. Later, I felt that Sophie would have been intelligent enough to have seen that Lucien was a nasty bit of work before marrying him, and that even if she hadn't Sophie's father would have picked up on his visit that things were badly wrong for the couple, and tried to help his daughter. But then - Sophie's father was a bit of a puzzle in various ways. I wasn't sure why he'd sent his daughter back to England alone in the early 1950s (when she had no relatives left there) or why he hadn't tried to trace Jag. McQueen, I felt, needed to spend more time on character motivation and in examining the nature of her characters - for too much of the novel they were like puppets manipulated to suit the plot. And (SPOILER ALERT) I'd have liked to know why and how Sophie ended up in the USA and how she survived there financially.

McQueen is definitely a talented writer, with a real ability to create a sense of place, and lots of interesting ideas. But I think she needs to build up the complexity of her characters considerably if she wants to make the leap from popular 'downtime' reading to more serious fiction. For me, this was an enjoyable but ultimately (bar some of the historical information on India) not particularly memorable read, in which I found the plot gripping, but was never sufficiently emotionally involved. Nevertheless, I would certainly read another novel by this author.
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on 26 April 2013
It's 1957 and Sophie Schofield is arriving in Delhi as the new wife of ambitious British diplomat Lucien Grainger. Living in a specially designed ex-pat compound and mixing only with Brits trying to preserve the days of the Raj, Sophie finds herself yearning for the India she experienced as a teenager, living in the palace of a Maharaja with her doctor father. The India she knew then, of heat and spices, is completely different from post-partition India, full of stifling social etiquette. And the more she recalls the past, the more it becomes clear that it may not have left her at all. Lucien doesn't measure up in any way to her first love, the Indian son of an employee of the Maharaji, and Sophie is soon caught up trying to keep the secrets that could bring her new life crashing down.

Under the Jewelled Sky was an enjoyable read. Sophie is instantly likable as a main character and the book has a fast pace that makes it a quick and fun read. It's obvious the author has a passion for India, as the beauty of the setting comes off clearly on every page. McQueen is good at this kind of broad theme writing, as the decadence of the Maharaja and the absurdity of British diplomatic high society are also dealt with well. I closed this book with a desire to visit India for myself.

Whilst I liked the themes of the book, particularly the issue of children born to parents of different race at this time, I wanted the book to be a bit more gritty than it was. It left me with a nice cosy feeling (which is fine), but the skeptic in me was hesitant to believe all of the positive events. For example, I couldn't believe that Sophie's mixed race child would even have been found by Jag's family in the carnage of Partition, let alone accepted so unequivocally by all family members. McQueen does spend quite a bit of time writing about partition (one character is caught up in a camp), but I never truly felt the horror of the events. The writing was very good, but I was seeking more balance and the positive atmosphere meant I was never scared for Sophie, even when events took a turn for the worse. There was this sense that everything was pre-destined.

Despite this, Under the Jewelled Sky was perfect escapism. It contains a good story set in an interesting setting, so is bound to appeal to fans of historical fiction.
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on 29 May 2016
Another great author I have discovered who paints pictures with words. I have learned a lot about the history of India both before and after partition without the book being preachy and I feel I know the characters. I am just over halfway through this wonderful story and I cannot stop reading it though I know I will be bereft when it ends. Sophie is such an interesting character and I am rooting for her on each page. No idea how it will end as it is not story that is predictable. Love it so much I have just ordered Alison McQueens other book to transport me back once more to this amazing, colourful country.
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on 3 May 2015
I read this book straight after reading Alison McQueen’s first book – The Secret Children – an enjoyed them very much. She clearly has a real passion for India and that comes through in her writing.
It’s a tragic love story set in times when mixed race marriages and children were not allowed within the British establishment. Hard to believe that this was the case just 70 years ago.
I really enjoyed it, and think it is well worth reading. However, I think there are a few slightly better books out there if you like this type of story, such as The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark.
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on 18 February 2015
Books about India always hold a fascination due to the culture, scenery and life. This follows the period leading up to and after partition and that itself is interesting, even though the story is fiction. Gets better if you stick with it. Predictable, with a few twists, but that doesn't spoil it. Don't regret buying it or reading it - unlike some other books that have even featured on best sellers.
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Regular readers of my blog might know that it's quite rare when I read and review historical fiction or books with a similar subject matter. I've never really been interested in this genre and on the rare occasion when I did pick up a historical novel, I never seemed to enjoy it as much as I should have. However, there was something about Under the Jewelled Sky (possibly the idea of love and loss and a past better forgotten) which really piqued my curiosity and I decided to read it. Never in a million years did I imagine falling in love with McQueen's story as much and as quickly as I did.

Starting her story with a hint of a family drama and a dark past, the author introduces us to Sophie - a British girl who spent part of her childhood in India - and her mother who is visibly not too keen on seeing her daughter after so many years. We learn that it's been quite a long time since the two of them saw each other and they clearly haven't been in touch ever since. It takes a great deal of courage on Sophie's part to make this visit, yet her mother couldn't behave in a more rude and nasty way. When Sophie announces that she only came to tell her something, she refuses to listen. And Sophie leaves. Needless to say, it was only the first chapter but I was hooked already. What might have happened to cause such tension between the two women? What was Sophie about to say to her mother? I knew it would be related to some buried family secrets but the complexity of Sophie's past and what they've all been through back in India not only took me completely by surprise but made me read the last 200 pages in literally one sitting.

And the things I enjoyed the most about this book? Firstly and most importantly, the beautiful and flawless writing. I've never been in India or anywhere near it but McQueen's descriptions are so detailed, so vivid that I felt as if I was there with Sophie in the Maharaja's palace. I could literally see the surroundings, the lotus pool and various gardens, the beauty of the palace itself, down to the tiniest details. If that wasn't enough to convince me, the way the author handles characters and makes sure that not only are they realistic (and in most cases likeable too) but are very detailed and properly introduced as well is just fantastic. She doesn't go into lengthy tales about her characters' traits or their past unless it's necessary for the story, yet I felt like I've known them all my life. And I don't just mean the main characters. Everyone. I absolutely loved Sophie's father and the way he was always there when she needed him and Sophie and Jag's bittersweet relationship made me reach for the tissues many times throughout the story and it's definitely something I'm not likely to forget anytime soon.

This book has taught me to dare to read outside the box and try new genres and I must say an enormous thank you to Sophie at Orion, without whom I wouldn't have stumbled upon this gem. Under the Jewelled Sky is simply magical and it's safe to say that I enjoyed every minute of it. The story, McQueen's characterisation and Sophie's intricate past and the way she finds closure is breathtakingly beautiful - I can't recommend this highly enough.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 29 December 2013
I am always drawn to books set in India and this book is set against a particularly interesting timeframe: immediately before and after Partition. When it opens, 18 year old Sophie Schofield is arriving at a Maharaja's palace where her father has taken a job as the Maharaja's physician. She explores the palace and befriends Jag, the son of a servant at the palace. Gradually, tentatively, they fall in love.

Jump forward ten years. Sophie is living in England, working as a secretary at the Foreign Office and considering a marriage proposal from Lucien, an ambitious diplomat. Together they will move to India although Sophie will find it a quite different place from the idyllic country of her memories. Gradually we will learn the full story about what happened to her ten years earlier.

I really liked the lyrical descriptions of India and the way that the plot touches on so many aspects of the country: the opulent lifestyle of the Maharajas, the comfortable existence of the British, the desperation of the refugee camps and the chaotic life of the cities. I also really liked learning more about what happened during the Partition years. I found Sophie's story quite absorbing although it irritated me the way that so many of the characters were so simplistic. Sophie's mother and husband are unrealistically villainous, without any redeeming qualities, while Jag and his family are unrealistically selfless and perfect. The central love story will probably captivate many readers but I found it overwrought and lacking in nuance. Having said that, the book unfolds at a good pace and it has several twists that I didn't see coming. I thought I knew exactly how things would pan out and I was completely wrong. If you like romance stories set against historical backgrounds, this is a good choice.

I received an advance copy for review through Net Galley.
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on 10 June 2016
It was good to read about India when the \British left I had no idea that so many people had been killed. The story was good but I do not like books that keep changing the dates it goes from one date to another and it is very confusing.
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on 25 April 2013
Under the Jewelled Sky is an enchanting, captivating novel that I absolutely fell in love with from the start -- the intense opening scene between Sophie and her mother immediately pulled me in. From there, McQueen's effortlessly descriptive writing instantly transports you back to the mid 1900's and extravagance of palace life in India. It's the perfect escape from real-world troubles; even though I was saddened by Sophie and Jag's love story, it felt complete to me. And Lucien is the expertly crafted 'villain-you-love-to-hate' that keeps the plot engaging. The vicious--practically palpable--silence and awkwardness between Sophie and Lucien is so well-done (to say intense is an understatement), I enjoyed every minute of it. And oh, the Maharani is one of my favorite characters to date...this gem of a novel will swallow you whole from start to finish.
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on 20 June 2015
One of those books you can't put down as you are wanting to know what and where you will be going next. Well written and informative while keeping it from getting to heavy. Loved the part about the palace and the contrast of her mothers cruelty, but be warned I needed my box of tissues before the end.
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