Thursday, 22 March 2018

Emma's Review: Beneath an Indian Sky by Renita D'Silva

Reviewed by Emma Crowley

1928. In British-ruled India, headstrong Sita longs to choose her own path, but her only destiny is a good marriage. After a chance meeting with a Crown Prince leads to a match, her family’s status seems secured and she moves into the palace, where peacocks fill the gardens and tapestries adorn the walls. But royal life is far from simple, and her failure to provide an heir makes her position fragile. Soon Sita is on the brink of losing everything, and the only way to save herself could mean betraying her oldest friend…

2000. When Priya’s marriage ends in heartbreak, she flees home to India and the palace where her grandmother, Sita, once reigned as Queen. But as grandmother and granddaughter grow closer, Priya has questions. Why is Sita so reluctant to accept that her royal status ended with Independence? And who is the mysterious woman who waits patiently at the palace gates day after day? Soon Priya uncovers a secret Sita has kept for years – and which will change the shape of her life forever…

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Many thanks to Bookouture via NetGalley for my copy of Beneath an Indian Sky to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

Beneath an Indian Sky is the latest historical fiction read from author Renita D'Silva. It is a heartbreaking story of love, loss, betrayal, guilt and family secrets. It takes you by the hand and leads you on a journey into three women’s lives to demonstrate how friendship can turn into fierce ambition that only leads to destruction and devastation. This book is very character driven but all the better for it. Initially I was missing out on the character in the present delving back into the past to uncover secrets as is quite often normal in the time slip novels I read in the historical fiction genre. I soon came to realise that Priya in the present, who has just discovered her marriage is over due to her cheating husband, was not to be the sole focus of this book.

In fact when the very chapters from her viewpoint appeared every now and again I found myself reading them as quickly as possible to get back to Mary and Sita's story which I found to be much more fascinating and intriguing, as the in bonds of friendship and love were tested to their max .Yes Priya was an essential element but more so in the last section of the story as she is the one who helps the journey attempt to come full circle, in a way she helps to join the dots to complete the puzzle. I did feel for the circumstances she found herself in and I thought she was very vulnerable but this was more Sita and Mary's story to tell. An emotional story of passion, yearning, zeal and regret.

The book is divided into seven sections, some more brief than others but they were all essential as they helped move the story on in terms of months and years passing by. For this book has issues that require setting up and then further exploration and development. The pain of loss and sacrifice does not happen over night neither does it diminish. Everything that occurs has far reaching and long lasting consequences which last a life time and cannot  be resolved satisfactorily within a short space of a few weeks or months. Pain, hurt and anger do not leave instantly but rather there comes an acceptance of one can not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Should the characters involved lay down and accept this betrayal or should they fight until the bitter end? But in this case the reader hopes that the unnecessary actions of one which cause so much heartache to another will see some justice served.

Renita D'Silva has woven a powerful story and what gathers the reader in so quickly is the stunning evocative descriptions. One feels as if they are there in India feeling the heartbeat and soul of the country through the heat, exotic foods and the constant hum of people and animals. The glorious descriptions come alive on the page and in particular in this story a royal palace takes centre stage and through such vivid writing, you can imagine the opulence and abundance of wealth that allowed any desire or wish to be fulfilled. Renita has brought alive a time in India's history which is long gone and which may never be replicated again.

England, 1936, Mary Brigham is about to come out at the royal court after a season on the London circuit with her cousins. Mary questions whether this is what she actually wants or is love, family, a husband, children and a household of her own more in keeping with her character and hidden wishes. It soon becomes apparent that England has not been the background to Mary's childhood and that the country of India is where she grew up. An arrival at her Aunt's household leads to a devastating discovery for Mary which in turn makes her question everything. Why had she blocked out that time she spent in India? So many questions run through her mind and to get answers, to satisfy the wishes of her now lost but beloved parents she returns to the heat, excitement and mysteries that await her. In doing so she embarks on a journey with clear intentions but little does she realise said trip will change her once again forever. In the beginning I did find it difficult to keep track of the time period I was reading about despite it being written at the beginning of each chapter. It went from 1936 , then back to the mid 1920's, the present and then back to the 30's again. It all felt a little jumpy until I settled down into the rhythm and pattern of the story.

In 1925, we meet Sita, a young girl who feels so constrained by the rules placed upon someone of her sex. The reader can see Sita has spirit, she is different from the norm and will not be happy with marriage, children and a husband. She wants to be out there experiencing adventures, freedom and life in general. She is a disappointment to her parents as her antics do not inspire good things. From the moment she was born she is believed to have brought bad luck and the fact a suitable husband cannot be found only further re-enforces her mother's beliefs. Sita is fearless, feisty, untameable and unafraid. She will take on any challenge but maybe these qualities will turn out to be her weakness and a downfall can only be inevitable. Sita is not at all docile, as she constantly plots to run away and lead her own exciting life. Bring groomed for marriage is the last thing she wishes for. It is admirably for someone who wants to go against the norm but Sita to me seemed as if she would be restless, anxious and always on the look out for something else no matter even if she had achieved her goal.

She was a person who would become ruthless and cold hearted in her schemes and would trample over anyone to get where she needed to be. I did like her initially but over the course of the book as her story is developed her character was not someone I liked. Her actions were so cruel and unforgiving and when she committed the ultimate betrayal and got what she wanted it was almost like she goaded over those she had hurt and left behind. I think she deserved everything that came her way. I did admire her free spirit and wanting to go against the norm when we first met her but she took things way too far and caused too much hurt and suffering. So much so her own life couldn't be a bed of roses as guilt must have been eating her up.

When Mary and Sita first encounter each other and develop a friendship as young girls, they are complete opposites. Sita is bound by shackles she feels her parents place around her whereas Mary's parents afford her freedom which she is not willing to embrace. Two very contrasting girls yet they bond and develop a friendship, one which you would hope can survive anything. Little do they know a chance friendship will led to such a forbearing on their futures. But when devastation strikes and the girls are torn apart, two very different paths emerge for the pair. Will the paths lead them back to each other or has fate a lot of surprises and twists and turns in store for the pair?

I never quite knew where the story would eventually lead too and thanks to such brilliant writing my opinions of the characters changed several times. Normally I find myself coming down on one characters side and I never stray from that but here that wasn't the case and I loved the fact it was so. Beneath an Indian Sky provides the reader with a lot more than they bargained for. A myriad of emotions arise as you read through the story as the author has written with such detail and passion. It highlights be careful what you wish for and that maybe to some extent we should be content with the lot we have been dealt in life. This book is full of heartache, turmoil, sadness, bitterness and love and has confirmed Renita D'Silva if you hadn't thought so already as a top class author who can write a scintillating and impassioned story that will have the reader gripped.

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