Starlight over Simla
Rose Fielding is bored stiff with the lifestyle that Edwardian London offers her: endless rounds of fancy balls and tea parties. Rose is desperate for adventures and is thrilled when she receives an invitation from a friend of her mother’s, the Vicereine in India. A post of governess has become vacant and Rose would be perfect for the role.
Rose is fascinated by India from her first glimpse of the exotic country. She enjoys exploring the sights, but those outings often lead to exciting – and revealing – escapades. She is flattered by the attentions of dashing Captain Julian Turnbull but also feels drawn to the quiet intelligence of poor artist Peter Woods. She is torn between them and her decision affects the lives of the people around her – her friend Monica, her parents, her employer. But is it the right decision? Ultimately, Rose chooses her true love, but not before she has experienced both happiness and disappointment.
Siepmann writes beautifully about the wonders of India under the Raj – the scents, sights, people and traditions, her style at times reminiscent of the late, great M.M. Kaye. The tone and dialogue fits the era, but it also keeps the characters at a distance. I could not get into their heads, feeling detached from their emotions. Also, one character’s later change in attitude is not quite credible. Rose’s ultimate decision creates a race against time, which should provide a build-up to a great finale. However, the conclusion feels somewhat rushed. And predictable.
Starlight over Simla is an enjoyable read for brightening up a dull winter’s day with a colourful dose of Eastern wonders. Just don’t expect to bond with the characters.