Original date of publication: 1957
My edition: 2010 (Penguin)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Hatchards Bookshop, London, September 2011
MM Kaye was born in Simla, India, and came from a long line of people who served the British Raj. Several of her novels are set in India, most notably, of course, The Far Pavilions. Set against the backdrop of the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857, Shadow of the Moon is the story of the love between two British subjects with close ties to India: half-Spanish Winter de Ballesteros and Captain Alex Randall. The story begins properly when Winter, who spent her younger years in India and England, goes back to India to marry Conway Barton, Commissioner of Lunjore, who turns out to be obese and a drunkard. Her marriage doesn’t turn out to be the romance she has envisioned, however, but that part of the story takes a backseat to the larger events going on.
To be sure, this is a romance-type of novel, but it’s subtle. Winter isn’t your typical English rose, and her liveliness is captivating. Alex is harder to get to know, because he’s often inscrutable. Nevertheless, he’s a long-range planner, able to understand exactly what needs to be done. Because of the time he’s spent in India, he understands the way that the natives think; but he’s not necessarily sympathetic towards them. Like the rest of his compatriots, he believes in the rule of the British Raj—but he differs in several respects. Alex is less blind to the turmoil going on around him than the government officials he serves.
I found Alex to be a little less believable; for example, I found it hard to believe that he was able to predict the exact time of year that the Sepoy rebellion was going to happen, as well as the exact mechanism that would set it off—regardless of how well he understands India and its people. Conway Barton also descends into caricature at times; for example, when the rebels storm the Residency at Lunjore (though I did find it believable that they would think him mad).
Nonetheless, I loved the period and place detail—MM Kaye had a lot of love for India, and it shows up time and again in this novel. She also doesn’t skimp on details of the rebellion and the horrible brutalities incurred against the British—not for the fait of heart. It’s tragic because along the way the reader is introduced to characters whose death is inevitable. It makes you want Alex and Winter’s fate to come out all right in the end.