I’m delighted today to share my review of In the Far Pashmina Mountains by Janet MacLeod Trotter – published by Lake Union Publishing on 1st October, and available as an ebook, paperback and as an audiobook. Janet has been a wonderful supporter of Being Anne for a very long time, and I’d been very much wanting to read one of her books – although I’m not a regular reader of historical fiction, I just couldn’t resist this one when it appeared as an Amazon First Read a couple of months ago, and added it to my kindle. I had planned to invite the author as my guest here, while awaiting my review, but life sadly intervened and made it just impossible for me – so sorry, Janet! But the Christmas break offered the perfect reading opportunity – this book might be a hefty one (at over 500 pages) for a lightweight like me, but it certainly didn’t feel like it, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment…
From shipwreck and heartbreak to treachery and war: can their love survive?
Abandoned as a baby and raised in a remote lighthouse off the wild Northumberland coast, Alice Fairchild has always dreamed of adventure. When a fierce storm wrecks a ship nearby, she risks everything in an act of bravery that alters the course of her life.
Aboard the doomed vessel is the handsome John Sinclair, a Scottish soldier on his way to India. The connection between them is instant, but soon fate intervenes and leaves Alice heartbroken and alone. Determined to take charge of her destiny but secretly hoping her path will cross again with John’s, she too makes a new start in colonial India.
Life there is colourful and exotic, but beneath the bright facade is an undercurrent of violence, and when the British invade Afghanistan, Alice is caught up in the dangerous campaign. When at last she hears news of John, she is torn between two very different lives. But will she follow her head or her heart?
Do you remember the books that first got you excited about reading? I’m thinking about my mum’s library of books by Pearl S Buck and Nevil Shute, MM Kaye’s The Far Pavilions, Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds – all of which might just have ignited my love of travel too, sweeping me away through time into their unfamiliar worlds, making me ache as I experienced every joy and agony of the love stories at their centres. In the Far Pashmina Mountains brought back to me those memories, of disappearing into the worlds they created, sometimes surfacing for food and air, but determined that nothing will deflect you from devouring the book to the very last page.
To some extent, this is a book of two halves, beginning in the early 19th century with the early story split between the young lives of Alice and John – two fascinating stories of hardship, determination and dramatic changes of fortune. The quality of the writing immediately drew me in – wonderful descriptions of the Northumberland coast and life in the lighthouse, the bitter cold of Skye, the complex characters, the family relationships, the day-to-day drama. And after the dramatic rescue and the ensuing betrayal that changes everyone’s lives, the second half of the story takes us to 1830s India, and from there to Afghanistan and the complexities of its invasion and governance, culminating in the harrowing story of the British retreat and the captivity of the women and children. And through it all runs the most wonderful love story, of twin souls destined to be together – but with so many obstacles, misunderstandings and wrong choices littering their way.
The story-telling is just magnificent – sweeping in its scale, but focused on individuals and events in their lives, against an enthralling backdrop of historical events that I previously knew so little about. It manages to be a small story – Alice and the twists and turns of her personal experience, the choices that you so hope she won’t make, her joys and sorrows – while stretching out to encompass world-changing events, military intelligence and social history, the complex relationships and alliances of rulers. As well as engaging your heart, it does call on your concentration: the “who’s who” in Afghanistan can be difficult to follow, distinguishing the good from the bad or the duplicitous, but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. The author has a fine emotional touch too – there are the many relationships, joyous and painful, but also the horror of the long walk out of Afghanistan, the heavy losses and their personal impacts.
The characters are wonderfully drawn. Alice’s drive and determination puts you firmly in her corner, however questionable some of her personal decisions may be – and John draws on the reserves of strength and integrity he built in childhood, and the love drawn from others. All the characters are superbly detailed, with minor characters sometimes moving to centre stage and playing a major role. And her “baddies” really are quite horrendous – cruel and villainous, but never crossing the line from believability.
And a final word about the sheer quality of the writing. I was totally blown away by the descriptions – whether it’s the interior of the lighthouse, the stark scenery of Skye, the Afghan mountain passes, the chaos of an Indian market – that draw on every sense to transport you. I loved this book – and have found another author to add to my “must read” list.
About the author
British author Janet MacLeod Trotter has had 24 books published, 19 of them historical family dramas. Her first, THE HUNGRY HILLS, was nominated for the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, while THE TEA PLANTER’S DAUGHTER (the first in the INDIA TEA SERIES set in Britain and India) was long-listed for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year and was an Amazon top ten best seller. It has gone on to be a best-seller in Russian, French and Italian too.
Janet’s second novel in THE INDIA TEA SERIES, THE TEA PLANTER’S BRIDE (sequel to THE TEA PLANTER’S DAUGHTER) is set in 1920’s Scotland, North East England and India. It was inspired by diaries and letters that recently came to light, belonging to Janet’s grandparents who married in Lahore and lived and worked in the Punjab for nearly 30 years.
The third novel in the series, GIRL FROM THE TEA GARDEN, follows the family into the Second World War – some of it was inspired by Janet’s trip to the foothills of the Himalayas to discover where her mother had lived as a child. The fourth and final novel, SECRETS OF THE TEA GARDEN, is set in the dying days of the British Raj and Indian Independence.
She has written for teenagers and numerous short stories for women’s magazines, some of which are published in an ebook anthology ICE CREAM SUMMER. She has been a columnist and reviewer for The Newcastle Journal and editor of The Clan MacLeod Magazine. Her childhood memoirs of Durham and Skye in the 1960’s, BEATLES & CHIEFS, was featured on BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths.
She is a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association.