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The story starts out with a letter written by an unknown older man (we quickly learn this is Luke) to a woman that he knows he loves but can’t remember. I immediately and irrevocably fell in love with him before chapter one. (#boysinbooksarebetter) Luke is my favorite character here. He is sweet, charming, strong, loyal and forces those around him to try to be better simply by… being. My heart broke for him, his confusion over losing his memories, his dreams where he sees a woman that he has to find… the countless letters in his journal. Everything about this man makes him the best lead male freaking ever.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for our lead female, Maddy, whom I found myself wanting to shake multiple times. She seems very immature and petulant for her age. When we meet her, she is homesick for the home she had to leave when her caretakers got embroiled in scandal. She had just assumed that her life would be there, that she had a job waiting where Uncle Fitz worked. Having lived most of her life in England and only seeing her mother once in all that time, I kind of get it…. but I feel like she could have sat her mother down and started asking questions way earlier than she should. She begins to grow on me as she and Luke begin their courtship dance through notes and the gift of a guidebook for Bombay (a sweet gesture to help her get to know her surroundings and not feel homesick). As we move forward I love her more and more… until she finally decides that Luke really is dead and settles on a new marriage to give her daughter, Iris, a father.
Other people I would love to shake? Her mother. Alice is hellbent on keeping her feelings and emotions and pain from her daughter- to the detriment of their relationship. At the same time she wants to keep her daughter there in Bombay and has gone so far as to pick a suitor for Maddy who was pretty well entrenched in India (not to mention 20 years older). She finally agrees to let Maddy marry the man she loves, but when Luke’s out of the picture she starts pushing her toward Guy again. She swears it’s for Maddy’s own good… but anyone with eyes can see this is for her. I slowly started to understand Alice, but it was way too late to fully redeem her in my eyes.
This book spans six years for the most part, with a few chapters from far later. A lot of that time is kind of skimmed over, and part of me does wish that we spent more time there but it may have broken the flow of the book. This book is not a quick read, but it was one that I could not put down. I pored over descriptions, letters, dreams… completely charmed. Reading this made me want to read her other works. It was gorgeous, and heartbreaking, and just… just so perfect. For me this is a five star book.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
On the adult content scale, there’s language, sexual content, drinking and violence (there is a war going on after all). While there is nothing I would call rape, not all sexual content is… as it should be. That may make people uncomfortable. I would say this is geared toward young adults and adults- no younger than 16.
I was incredibly lucky to receive an eARC of this book from Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. My thanks. I have also preordered my hard back copy and hope to receive it on release day (January 19th, 2021). I am considering writing another blog post on this day so that I can quote my favorite parts.
Top reviews from other countries
Set superbly in Colonial India, the heat, scents and colours of that time are perfectly presented with such clarity that one's own head becomes transfixed by the incredible beauty of the land.
The story is woven around characters who love desperately and suffer loss so profound that it seems impossible that they should go on living and breathing through such tumultuous times of war. Their story is compelling and tragic, but is also filled with courage and overwhelming love. This is truly a wonderful gift for the reader.