Publisher Bantam Books
A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali
The year is 1838. Mariana Givens, a young woman of twenty, has been sent to India to find a suitable husband. Travelling as a translator, she joins the entourage of Lord Auckland, the British Governor-General, as he journeys across India with an army ten thousand strong to meet Ranjit Singh, Maharajah of the Punjab.
Eager young officers in this travelling army compete for Mariana’s attention, but it is India that she is facinated with, the baggage elephants tramping through country, the scent of exotic foods at remote campsites, the enigmatic tutor who is her guide to native languages and traditions. Lord Auckland must forge an alliance with Ranjit Singh that will deliver Afghanistan into British control, but Mariana is drawn into a conspiracy surrounding the one-eyed Maharajah’s baby hostage named Sabor.
This book is the first in a trilogy and I will certainly be reading the next part called, ‘Beggar at the Gate’. Mariana, the main character in the book is not having a lot of success finding a husband in England and at the age of twenty is sent out to India to help her chances of making a good match. She travels with Lord Auckland and his thousands to the Durbar to enlist the help of the Maharajah of the Punjab to help him make a treaty to secure Afghanistan for Britain. Marian’s character is in one way naive and in another very courageous, and she actually likes the excitement of India and its people and culture which is not the done thing, and of course she begins to get a bad reputation. The bits of romance in the story are wonderfully straight laced so that if Marian is so much as kissed by anyone, I was so carried away I had to pause for a slight swoon.
This is old fashioned and delightful writing and seems to capture the restraints of the day.
Mariana basically gets involved in the capture of a child who is the Ranjit Singh’s favourite, and becomes a hostage herself in a very complicated situation.
Hassan is the father of the child Sabor and the noble hero of the story. I will not spoil the plot for any readers, except to say there is a major pause for a swoon at the end of the book.
There are amazing descriptions of the British caravan making its way across India, the noise, the animals, the Harem, the older chaperoning women in the British camp, the matchmaking rituals and the feeling you get that you are thrown into the middle of India with its mystics and power struggles and political intrigue.
This is a compulsive read and the only thing that did not ring true was that Mariana, from her English upper class background was able to cope with some very stressful situations without collapsing, but it’s fiction after all and a really good read.