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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars India 1838 - Adventure and Romance
A Singular Hostage is the first book in a projected trilogy by Thalassa Ali. I can't wait till the next book in the series, apparently to be titled 'A Beggar at the Gate' and out in 2003, as the ending to this one is a cliff hanger and I wanted more!
The heroine has been sent out to the India of the Raj and the East India Company to find a husband. She accompanies...
Published on January 3, 2003 by noumea3

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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what the plot deserves
I bought this novel based on what other readers had said of it and, mainly, on the originality of the plot. I hoped I would find a story that would transport me to the India of the Raj, as FAR PAVILLIONS does. Alas, this was not so. The characters of this book are not round, especially so the main character Mariana. The author fails to flesh her out as a victorian young...
Published on October 31, 2004 by ex nihilo


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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars India 1838 - Adventure and Romance, January 3, 2003
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
A Singular Hostage is the first book in a projected trilogy by Thalassa Ali. I can't wait till the next book in the series, apparently to be titled 'A Beggar at the Gate' and out in 2003, as the ending to this one is a cliff hanger and I wanted more!
The heroine has been sent out to the India of the Raj and the East India Company to find a husband. She accompanies Lord Auckland on his march of thousands to the durbar with Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Punjab in 1838, where the British hope to enlist Ranjit Singh's aid in what will become the first Afghan war.
There is little actual romance in A Singular Hostage, as the hero and heroine, strangers to each other, come into random contac, unknowing that the future will bring them together. However, it seems this romance will develop in the future books.
Mariana, the heroine, is a rather naive and headstrong girl, who is not having much luck in securing a husband, and faces the dreaded fate of returning home an unmarriageable spinster. On the march to the Punjab she develops an unfashionable, and suspicious from the British point of view, fascination with Indian culture and language. This brings her into a plot involving the baby Saboor, grandson of a Sufi sheik, held hostage by Ranjit Singh and ultimately into contact with his father, Hassan, the hero, who will become her husband against her will.
Thalassa Ali is herself a Sufi, and there are allusions to Sufi mysticism through the book. The author draws the flavours of the India of the Raj and the Princely States very well too. If you enjoy M M Kaye, Rebecca Ryman and Valerie Fitzgerald's historical romances of 19th century India I would recommend Thalassa Ali. The only problem I had with this book was that the ending is abrupt and obviously the story will be continued in the sequel. I wish the trilogy had been published in one go, as this means waiting yearly for the next installment!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exotic Adventure & Romance In British Held India, April 7, 2004
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This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
Mariana Givens, age 20, is sent to visit her aunt and uncle in Calcutta, India, in 1838, ostensibly to 'get' a husband. However, she finds herself more attracted to the adventure of the trip and the discovery of the new country and cultures than to husband hunting. In Victorian England, young women who could not afford to 'come out,' or who did not find themselves married at the end of a season, would travel to India where Englishmen were plentiful due to the Honorable East India Company and the British army. Mariana is an attractive young woman, but not in the fashionable or traditional sense. Her looks are too vibrant and she is much too intelligent for her own good, military history being one of her favorite subjects. She chafes at the restrictions placed on her by English society and gets into many scrapes in the effort to satisfy her unquenchable curiosity and see sights usually forbidden to proper young ladies. After almost a year in India Mariana is no closer to the married state than when she arrived. Although there have been many suitors who have asked for her hand she has found none to be acceptable as her life's mate. Early on she acquired an enigmatic native tutor and has occupied herself with the study of Urdu, becoming quite proficient at reading, writing and speaking the language. These skills are to prove very useful given the novel's plot.
As it happens, 1838 is also the year that Great Britain attempts to invade and gain political control of Afghanistan. Before launching his Afghan campaign, Lord Auckland travels twelve hundred miles across India, with an enormous cavalcade - his entire government, a ten thousand man army, and animals, food, clothing, shelter and servants to take care of all necessary services - to meet with the dying Maharajah Ranjit Singh, Lion of the Punjab. Auckland's mission is to enlist the Maharajah's aid with the invasion and seal the pact by signing a treaty. Accompanying the Govenor-General are his two spinster sisters and Mariana Givens, their translator, appointed at the last minute when the regular translator took ill.
In the Punjab the Maharajah holds hostage an infant boy, Saboor, and his mother. He does this in order to control the baby's grandfather Shaikh Waiullah Karakoyia of Lahore, a renowned, visionary Sufi mystic and Saboor's father, Hassan, who serves as the Rajah's courier. One of the Rajah's jealous queens poisons Saboor's mother and the women of the harem mistreat and abuse the baby without his mother to protect him. It is likely that the boy, who supposedly has mystic powers similar to his grandfather's, will die if not removed from the harem. The Shaikh and his family are desperate to rescue Saboor. Mariana, the Shaikh and various others have had dreams which foretell that Mariana is destined to save and care for Saboor.
Author Thalassa Ali treats the reader to vivid descriptions of the cavalcade as it wends it's way across India, the traveling British and their customs, local soothsayers, scorpions and vipers, elephants, dancing girls, child kidnappers, a harem, Indian wedding rituals, eunuchs, a visionary mystic, suspense, conspiracy, intrigue and an unexpected romance. This is a book that is difficult to put down, although I did find the reading to be at a young adult level. Supposedly this is the first book in a trilogy. I look forward to Book Two. Recommended.
JANA
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story, Dazzling Period Detail, Real Insight into Islamic Culture, April 3, 2006
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
You can read this marvelous novel for the spell-binding story alone, but you'll take away much more. Especially if your mission as a reader is to find out about Islamic culture through richly imagined fictional characters that come alive before your eyes. You will be transported through sight, sound and smell to the Punjab of the 1830's, undisturbed by a single anachronism. Dialogue among the Brits is perfectly rendered pre-Victorian, but it's the Punjabi family of mystics that you shall not have seen the likes of elsewhere. At a time when the West is struggling for an accurate understanding of Muslims, wondering, "What do they really think, anyway? And how do they really feel?," this novel, set far away and long ago, is fascinatingly pertinent. A visit to the writer's Web site, www.ThalassaAli.com, shows that her life has superbly prepared her for her work. If you enjoy defeating ignorance while being royally entertained, this book is for you.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exotic, heroic and spiritual, April 13, 2006
By 
Bettina McQ (Orlando, FL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
Hooray for Thalassa Ali's portrayal of a strong, brave woman in Victorian times thrust into a cross-cultural world to fulfill strange and exotic prophecy. The romance is not limited to the storyline, but comes through in her descriptions of the Punjab and the adventures of Mariana and a young, orphaned descendant of the Maharajah himself. A brilliant and enthralling read!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heroine's Journey, December 11, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
This novel combines great storytelling with meticulous historical accuracy. Living in what is now Pakistan in the mid-nineteenth century, the heroine juggles conflicting tendencies within herself--respect for tradition as well as a natural proclivity to break the rules, a strong sense of her British heritage as well as an attraction to subcontinental sensibilities, and a headstrong intelligence that does not drown out the inchoate longings of her heart. The story brings us into a world that is inhabited by Muslim mystics, charismatic teachers, pontiffs who play dumb to mask "smart as a fox" finaglings, and a child who is beloved and irresistible. At the end of the novel, Ali leaves us tantalized and eager for the next book. Beautifully written.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what the plot deserves, October 31, 2004
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
I bought this novel based on what other readers had said of it and, mainly, on the originality of the plot. I hoped I would find a story that would transport me to the India of the Raj, as FAR PAVILLIONS does. Alas, this was not so. The characters of this book are not round, especially so the main character Mariana. The author fails to flesh her out as a victorian young lady when she insists time and again, that her main trait, that which makes her a misfit in British society but should endear us to her, is that she is too warm-hearted and has an unfashionable, too-broad smile.

As proof of that, the author throws in some scenes in which we witness how Mariana feels for everybody, regardless of their social standing, to the point of actually hugging servants or village boys when she feels they are fellow-sufferers. It is not that a Victorian lady would not feel empathy for the pople "below her" in society, it is that she would certainly have shown it in other ways, for instance, with kind words.

But then, the author also tells us trait number two in Mariana's character: that she is too impulsive, which must account for the necessity of physical contact, I guess. It is not surprising, then, that her mother and aunt are worried about Mariana's prospects of marriage (although this does not extend to worrying about teaching her to be a real lady,with all the proper accopmplishements: she does not seem to draw, sew or study French, she does not seem to have a governess either; in fact, we are told that her days are spent rambling in the garden and being "warm-hearted" towards everybody that comes near her.). They decide that she will have a better chance of finding a good husband in India, where they are always short of marriageable ladies.

And thus we find the main character in India. Of course, she absolutely falls in love with India instantly; and I mean instantly: she doesn't learn to love it after some time of getting used to it. No culture shock for unwordly Mariana. However, the author utterly fails to transmit the feeling of this instant love or to conjure up the emotions of exotic adventure or grand occasion that such a happening as the journey of the governor and his two sisters should give us, although she gives us an account of what travelling by caravan was (with all the proper names of things and persons involved). This account does not sound alive to me.

I find hard to belive, also, the fact that Mariana, who has spent her childhood rambling in the garden and being warm-hearted (without a school, a governness, or any strict discipline at all at home, it seems), can muster the self-discipline necessary to study and learn such a language as Urdu in ...3 months!!! a feat that surely not even the great Sir Richard Burton could equal and that allows her to be employed as lady-translator for the governor's sisters.

But what I find especially hard to believe in this novel is the romance in it and the ineraction of the two main characters. Would such a man as Hassan fall deeply in love with a 19-year-old girl? would such a girl really be capable of living through the situations that she finds herself involved in, of taking those decissions? Has the life she has led until now prepared her for all this? Why does world-wise, intelligent Hassan fall in love with her? What does she find in her? I can't believe all this.

Because of this failure in conjuring atmosphere or creating round characters the story, in spite of the atractive plot, is totally unbelievable and a great deception.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow -- couldn't put it down!, January 24, 2003
By 
"gokathy" (Durham, NC United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
Thalassa Ali puts us in the middle of India during the time of the Raj. All your senses are involved in the reading of this book. Ali puts us so in touch with her subject that we can't pull away from this exciting place in time. Action, suspense, love, emotion, revulsion, attraction. Excellent. Would have liked a bit stronger ending, but it was satisfying, nonetheless.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Started out strong, then petered out..., September 27, 2007
By 
C. Quinn (Washington, DC) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
In the beginning, I was totally drawn into Mariana's story and had high hopes about this novel. The hints of tragedy in her past, her love of India and her sense of adventure make Mariana a very sympathetic heroine; I for one hoped that she was going to find happiness with Harry Fitzgerald, the one suitor who seemed to understand her. The desciption of life in India, the glimpses into the walled compounds of women, and the mystical undercurrent to Indian life added immeasurably to the narrative, until about two-thirds of the way through when the book suddenly took a turn into the absurd. Mariana's inexplicable decision to thrust herself into an untenable situation coupled with her subsequent inability to explain her way out struck me as ridiculous. From the scene in the Maharajah's Citadel to the very end of the book, I was exasperated with Mariana and with the novel itself. The ending was rushed and left everything unresolved, a decision that makes slightly more sense now that I see there are two more installments to the story, but still weakens the quality of the book. I'm just happy to be finished with Mariana and will certainly not be picking up volumes 2 and 3 of this epic.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!, July 5, 2003
This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
I think the last time I was so enthralled in a book was when I read The Red Tent. This book is well written, extremely interesting, and drags you in and keeps you there until the finish. I was disappointed to see no more books available by this author. I'll be waiting for the next one to come out.
On the cover, this book was likened to The Far Pavilions, but I think it is much better.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good Book., April 20, 2014
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This review is from: A Singular Hostage (Paperback)
I really enjoyed this book. It was fun and moved along quickly. Nice story and I learned a lot about India.
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A Singular Hostage
A Singular Hostage by Thalassa Ali (Paperback - November 26, 2002)
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