Book review: The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley
Lucinda Riley’s magnificent new novel is epic in every sense… a vast, multi-layered story which glides from the glittering palaces of India to the majestic stately homes of England, and encompasses lush landscapes and life-changing events of 20th century history.
The extraordinary account of an Indian girl’s life in the heyday of the British Raj is the most ambitious project yet for Irish-born Riley, author of Hothouse Flower, The Girl on the Cliff and The Light Behind The Window.
The Midnight Rose weaves backwards and forwards through time to unpick a tumultuous and tragic tale full of powerful emotions and complex themes.
Pride, passion, prejudice and a vibrant cast of eclectic characters portraying human beings at their best and worst are the driving forces for this atmospheric novel which blends romance and adventure with social awareness.
Think Downton Abbey but with more grit and gravitas, and with the added excitement and exoticism of scenes played out against a breathtaking Himalayan backdrop.
When her father dies in 1909, nine-year-old Anahita Chavan and her widowed mother, from a noble but impoverished family, are forced to move into the communal society of the Moon Palace in Jaipur in the service of their wealthy relatives.
Anni, as she is known, has inherited her mother’s feminine gifts of sight and healing and has a sound education in English, history and science thanks to the radical ideas of her late poet-philosopher father.
In 1911, at the Coronation Durbar for King George V, Anni meets Princess Indira, youngest daughter of the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and his wife Ayesha, a woman famous for her beauty and the unprecedented informality of her royal court.
Anni forms a close friendship with the headstrong Indira and is allowed to leave her home in Jaipur to become the princess’s official companion at the Cooch Behar Palace in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas.
When the girls are 14, Anni accompanies Indira to school in England but on the outbreak of war, they are evacuated to Astbury Hall in Devon, home of the widow of a former British official in Cooch Behar.
Feeling isolated by a distinct cooling in her friendship with Indira, Anni finds consolation in a mutual attachment with young Donald Astbury, a blond Adonis and reluctant heir to the magnificent, remote Astbury Estate.
As their relationship blossoms, his scheming, cold and arrogant mother Lady Maud Astbury is appalled…
Ninety years later, Rebecca Bradley, a young American film star, has the world at her feet but when her turbulent relationship with her equally famous boyfriend takes an unexpected turn, she is relieved that her latest role will take her away from the glare of publicity to England.
Shortly after filming begins at crumbling Astbury Hall, Ari Malik, Anni’s great-grandson, arrives unexpectedly on a quest for his family’s past.
What he and Rebecca discover will unravel the dark secrets that still haunt the blighted Astbury dynasty.
Anahita’s passage from rural India through 100 years of history and unprecedented personal, political and social change is an emotional rollercoaster journey of discovery, delight and heartbreak.
Riley is a natural born storyteller, painting pictures with words and effortlessly transporting us between historical periods and far-flung continents.
From the pressures of celebrity and a 21st century film set to the cloistered intensity of the women’s quarters in an Indian palace, The Midnight Rose is beautifully written and impeccably researched.
Romantic fiction at its most captivating.
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)