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“Our sepoys are trained to behave like English soldiers, but the blood of India runs through their veins, and the history of past centuries shapes their actions when feelings run high. Fools forget that.”

Yes, they do. Charlotte Scott is summoned to join her parents in India with the express purpose of putting her on the marriage market. A bit on the mousey side, Charlotte is very different from her mother (a renowned beauty and socialite), and has been over educated by the spinster aunt who raised her – she would rather talk politics with her father and volunteer at the soldier’s hospital than wear pretty dresses and go to balls. Surprisingly, Charlotte’s intelligence and spirit capture the attention of the most wanted bachelor in India, Richard Lingarde, but she’s still mooning over adventurer Colley Dupres – although he carries a secret that shatters her comfortable world and sends her running for the safety of Richard’s arms.

“…but the lowly peasant who drives the camels and cuts grass for the horses has no such sworn bond. He does it in order to live. When his livelihood is threatened is he a traitor to wish to join his own countrymen?”

Uncomfortable with the tensions between the Brits and the natives, Richard had hoped to resign his commission and return home, but his courtship of Charlotte delayed him long enough that he’s forced to stay with his outfit as they march north to install a ruler in Afghanistan sympathetic to the East India Company – although the Afghans are perfectly happy with the ruler they have. The women travel part of the way with them and on the way something very very bad happens that shatters Richard’s illusions and set him on a dark path of self-destruction. Despite being most definitely not wanted by her husband (no spoilers, that’s on the jacket), Charlotte joins the other wives when Kabul is deemed safe for women and children by the idiots officials in charge, although Afghanistan is still seething with treachery and revolt.

I absolutely loved this book and frankly couldn’t put it down (glad I had a rainy Saturday without much else to do). Drummond does a good job showing us the social mores and customs of 19C British society, as well as the Afghan *situation* – the retreat from Kabul through the Khyber pass in the full grip of winter was terrifying and will have you on pins and needles until the very end. Sniff, wish there was a sequel, I want more. Highly recommended for those who can’t get enough of India and the British Raj, and there are more Emma Drummond books in my immediate reading future. 4.5/5 stars.

FTC, library loot.