Rupert Torrington is called to the deathbed of his good friend and fellow soldier, Edward Deane, who asks him to take his personal possessions to his sister Harriet. Word of Edward’s death had never reached England and Harriet thinks the red-coated soldier arriving at her door is her brother, forcing Rupert to be the one to break the sad news. Despite being a bit “old” at twenty-four and on the plainish side, Rupert is charmed by Harriet’s wit and intelligence and pays court – although there’s a twist regarding news of Edward’s death and his gambling debts that gets the marriage off to a rocky start. Despite the heroism he displayed in Crimea, Rupert carries the stain of being in *trade* during his military career and unexpected events force him to resign and go into the family’s silk business.
They journey to Hong Kong where Rupert attempts to learn the ins and outs of the silk trade, but his heart isn’t in it. The life of the soldier always calls him, and he spends more time at the army barracks than he should with his wife. Eventually Rupert’s straightforward nature earns the ire of his business manager along with the wrath of the corrupt Canton government, a result of which ends in…
Well, sorry but I can’t tell you that, but there are definitely some emotional demons our pair has to work through:
“The fire will burn fitfully but will never be extinguished. Finally, the earth will glow with the fire, and the flames will be borne by the unyielding strength of the earth.”
While not Drummond’s best (that would be Beyond all Frontiers), this was a very good read and one I had a hard time putting down. It’s always a joy to see an educated leading lady with a mind of her own, as well as a strong male lead without being overly Alpha male either (can I have a Rupert of my very own?). A nice treat was Harriet’s relationship with her maid,
“He would not dare lay hands upon me, but if he catches sight of you lurking in the corridor, it is very possible he will wring your neck and toss your body from the window. Then I shall have no servant at all.” (Rupert was always firing her, but no one ever paid attention)
Drummond has a great grasp of Victorian society and its social mores and restrictions, as well as the ins and out of military life and the battlefield. Like the other books of hers I’ve read, she will keep you on pins and needles until the very very end waiting to see if you’ll get that HEA or not. According to the inside flap of my edition, this book was published in the UK under the title The Rice Dragon, so if you have one don’t go and buy the other.