Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye

“Winter!  Who ever heard of such a name?”

Set during the great Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, Shadow of the Moon follows the life of Winter, Condesa de Ballesteros who is the daughter of a Spanish nobleman and an English mother.  Leaving India for England an orphan at the age of six, she is raised by her great-grandfather the Earl of Ware, but a match is made for her at the tender age of eleven to a man twenty years her senior, and at seventeen she prepares to leave for India escorted by Captain Alex Randall, the subordinate of her betrothed, Conway Barton, the Commissioner of the Lunjore district.  From the beginning, Winter is attracted to Randall’s self-confident demeanour and somewhat brash independence, yet while she appreciates his care of her, she is also affronted at times by his behaviour and the two develop a mutual attraction that is complicated by circumstance and convention.  Although Winter remembers her fiancé as a rather jovial pleasant figure who offers safety and security, Randall is convinced that once she sees the debauched, womanizing lout, nothing in the world would convince her to marry him. 
Yet what becomes more of a concern is the rumblings in India of disquiet and unrest, as the British East India company’s presence has long been resented.  A company originally formed for trade and at one point accounting for half of the world’s trade, the British East India Company had expropriated not only the goods of the country of India, but its territories as well.  At the time of this story, there is discontentment among the Indian people due to heavy-handed British social reforms, unfair taxes, and the treatment of some of the nobility of the country.  In this case, the fuse that lit the mutiny was Indian sepoy officers being given cartridges smeared with pig and cow fat which they have to bite off, a practice that would be an anathema to both Hindus and Muslims due to their religious beliefs.  In spite of rumours murmured in secret meetings and bazaars of a mutiny so great not one Englishman will be left alive, the British commanders continue to trust their Indian armies, and stubbornly refuse to heed the signs of disaffection and suspicion.  While Randall attempts to convince his British contemporaries of the dangers, there are still parties and gaieties galore among the English ex-patriots and one wonders at their willful blindness.

The ruins of the Residency at Lucknow and the
gunfire it received
source Wikipedia

This historical aspect of this novel was fascinating.  Kaye communicated the various personages and political posturing in a highly realistic manner, from the blind stubbornness of the British commanders, to the insightful planning of Sir Henry Lawrence; from the rebel attacks in Delhi, to the flight of the British characters in their attempts to escape the carnage, the reader is treated to a highly developed and suspenseful plot that keeps him riveted to the pages.  Kaye also weaves a descriptive masterpiece of the settings of India and one can feel the heat radiating from the land, hear the chatter of the people in the bazaars, sense the tension between races and the suppressed passion between Winter and Alex Randall.  

The Sepoy revolt at Meerut
from Illustrated London News, 1857
source Wikipedia

Sadly, the romance in the novel was the most disappointing part.  Randall appeared rather self-absorbed for the greater part of the book, his job and political responsibilities often overshadowing any love or caring or attention that he could have shown Winter, and the uncomfortableness of her situation (a married woman) combined with Randall’s independent and sometimes abrasive character quelled any feelings of satisfaction that might have been generated by their love story.  Winter also had a penchant for overreacting with an exaggerated response that would cause her to make unwise decisions which would either damage her position, or needlessly complicate her life. While it perhaps added to the plot, it was often annoying and not necessarily believable. Randall himself displayed a character that was not particularly warm or generous towards women; I could understand Winter’s attraction to him, but I also thought their future life would be fraught with discontent and unrest, very much like the India they inhabited.

Here is an article written by M.M. Kaye on her writing of Shadow of the Moon, which I found interesting and illuminating.  In spite of a few reservations about the romance aspect, the rest of the novel was highly enjoyable and I thank Cirtnecce for her read-along.  If you want to read more about the book and the Indian Sepoy mutiny, please see her post on the Company Raj and her post on The Landscape of the Mutiny.

0 thoughts on “Shadow of the Moon by M.M. Kaye

  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this, even though you found the romance disappointing. I liked Alex more than you did, I think, but I do understand why you had reservations about his relationship with Winter. The history is fascinating, though – and I loved the vivid descriptions of India!

  2. i've been struck by the blindness of the British as regards the Indian people; from what i've read, they were so caught up in their artificial social networking that the vast populations of India seemed nonexistent… and it was such a surprise to them that they had anything to complain about… and of course the armed overreaction that precipitated a full scale rebellion… i suppose what they say about hindsight is really true in a lot of cases…

  3. I liked Alex as a hero of the uprisings, but not so much as a romantic partner. I suppose I'm just being too realistic lately …. I'll have to get over it! 😉

    I'm so glad you enjoyed it! We'll have to get together and all read Trade Wind and The Far Pavillions together at some later date!

  4. Hey, Mudpuddle, it's so good to hear from you again! 🙂 So, in spite of all our self-centeredness and entitlement of today, perhaps humanity has always been that way. It reminds me of the saying, forgive them for they know not what they do; there was certainly an element that thought the Indian people were benefitting and that they were doing good, but there was also an element who didn't care either way. It shows the lack of empathy of people … the inability to walk in another man's shoes. My, my, I'm full of clichés today, aren't I? 😉

  5. Thanks for this review. Haven't read any of her books but I have a fondness for books set in India so would happily read something like this. Have you read Rushdie's book, Midnight's Children?

  6. Kaye is a wonderful writer. She has three books set in India and then a series of mysteries which I thoroughly enjoyed years ago. I'd highly recommend her.

    I haven't read Midnight's Children. Do you recommend it?

  7. What an awesome review Cleo! And I am so glad you enjoyed the book. I was sharing with Helen that I was kind of angsty after hard selling the book to all of you! At the cost of annoying you, I must say I have been in love with Alex Randall all these years.I started at 15 and these 18 years has not diminished that love, though I do understand your reservations about him as romantic partner. But more to the book, it is truly the way Kaye brings out India and makes it dance infront of your eyes is the reason I loved her books so much. She unlike the Kiplings and such colonial authors, understood the country far more and brought into the writing her empathy and understanding. Lets read Trade Winds soon and I am always up for a re-read of The Far Pavillions. Thanks a ton for joining me in the read along…as always its was a complete joy and I enjoyed our historical philosophical debates!

  8. Well, surprise, surprise but I really liked Alex too. I definitely see his appeal and attraction — I know a couple of men just like him — but honestly his ability to have a meaningful relationship is questionable and it might be better if she ran for the hills. However, let's put on our rose-coloured glasses and believe that they had their happily ever after! 😉

    I agree about Kaye ….. you can tell how much she loved the land and the people through her writing. I will let you know when I get my hands on Trade Wind and we can be transported once again!

  9. I enjoyed your review, particularly your assessment of Alex, though I saw him a little differently from you. I liked him both as an action hero and a romantic one. It is Winter I had trouble with at first, but she did redeem herself at the end.

    I loved this, my first ever M.M. Kaye novel. What a wonderful writer. She certainly brought the history and India alive for me. I can't wait to read more of her novels.

  10. Yes, I think we ALL had problems with Winter, lol! Perhaps it was her age …….. we have to remember that she was only seventeen when she set sail for India.

    I've read Kaye's mysteries before but this was my first experience with her historical fiction and I loved it. So fun to read along with all of you. Perhaps we can all read Trade Wind together!

Thanks for visiting. I'd love to hear from you and have you join in the discussion!