Not Yet Drown’d
Catherine MacDonald, a young Scottish widow who has temporarily settled into the Edinburgh home of her older brother, finds her quiet life suddenly turned around by two events that happen in quick succession: she receives a parcel from her twin brother in India, who had been reported drowned in monsoon floods the previous year, and an American relation of her young stepdaughter tries to take Grace away from Catherine and home to America. Catherine will not allow Grace to go with this unloving woman, but has to resort to subterfuge to keep her safe. When removal to her native Skye becomes impossible, Catherine and Grace find themselves, accompanied by a runaway American slave, a mysterious Indian woman, and Catherine’s older, engineer brother, on a ship bound for India by way of Antwerp. Catherine, intrigued by a piece of music enigmatically entitled “Not Yet Drown’d” within the collection of pieces included in her twin brother’s parcel, decides not to disembark in the Netherlands.
The year is 1822, when the East India Company is deeply involved in the opium/tea trade, finding ways to propel ships more quickly and more surely than with sail is absolutely critical, and there is unrest in the hills of Assam. All of these absorbing historical events form the bedrock of a novel that is rich is characterization and suspense. Grace, Catherine’s stepdaughter, and Sharada, the Indian woman who appears at critical junctures before accompanying Catherine on her journey, are both particularly captivating creations. The British commercial and political interests are reflected through minor characters we meet along the journey, but the shock of some of their values is not diminished by the fleeting glimpses we get.
It is a wonder that this assured and supremely engaging novel is Peg Kingman’s first. I will wait with bated breath for her second. Extremely highly recommended.