Title: Under the Jewelled Sky
Author: Alison McQueen
Publication date: 25 April 2013
Format: Trade paperback
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Age group: Adult
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | Amazon US | The Book Depository
A love story for India, for a lost world and a boy from a forbidden world.
London 1957. In a bid to erase her past, Sophie Schofield accepts a wedding proposal from ambitious British diplomat, Lucien Grainger. When he is posted to New Delhi, into the glittering circle of ex-pat society, old wounds begin to break open as Sophie is confronted with the memory of her first, forbidden love and its devastating consequences. This is not the India she fell in love with ten years before in a maharaja’s palace, the India that ripped out her heart as Partition tore the country in two.
And so begins the unravelling of an ill-fated marriage, setting in motion a devastating chain of events that will bring her face to face with a past she tried so desperately to forget, and a future she must fight for. This is a tender story of love, loss of innocence, and the aftermath of a terrible decision no one knew how to avoid.
Regular readers of the blog might know that it’s quite rare when I read and review historical fiction or books with a similar subject matter. I’ve never really been interested in this genre and on the rare occasion when I did pick up a historical novel, I never seemed to enjoy it as much as I should have. However, there was something about Under the Jewelled Sky (possibly the idea of love and loss and a past better forgotten) which really piqued my curiosity and I decided to read it. Never in a million years did I imagine falling in love with McQueen’s story as much and as quickly as I did.
Starting her story with a hint of a family drama and a dark past, the author introduces us to Sophie – a British girl who spent part of her childhood in India – and her mother who is visibly not too keen on seeing her daughter after so many years. We learn that it’s been quite a long time since the two of them saw each other and they clearly haven’t been in touch ever since. It takes a great deal of courage on Sophie’s part to make this visit, yet her mother couldn’t behave in a more rude and nasty way. When Sophie announces that she only came to tell her something, she refuses to listen. And Sophie leaves. Needless to say, it was only the first chapter but I was hooked already. What might have happened to cause such tension between the two women? What was Sophie about to say to her mother? I knew it would be related to some buried family secrets but the complexity of Sophie’s past and what they’ve all been through back in India not only took me completely by surprise but made me read the last 200 pages in literally one sitting.
And the things I enjoyed the most about this book? Firstly and most importantly, the beautiful and flawless writing. I’ve never been in India or anywhere near it but McQueen’s descriptions are so detailed, so vivid that I felt as if I was there with Sophie in the Maharaja’s palace. I could literally see the surroundings, the lotus pool and various gardens, the beauty of the palace itself, down to the tiniest details. If that wasn’t enough to convince me, the way the author handles characters and makes sure that not only are they realistic (and in most cases likeable too) but are very detailed and properly introduced as well is just fantastic. She doesn’t go into lengthy tales about her characters’ traits or their past unless it’s necessary for the story, yet I felt like I’ve known them all my life. And I don’t just mean the main characters. Everyone. I absolutely loved Sophie’s father and the way he was always there when she needed him and Sophie and Jag’s bittersweet relationship made me reach for the tissues many times throughout the story and it’s definitely something I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
This book has taught me to dare to read outside the box and try new genres and I must say an enormous thank you to Sophie at Orion, without whom I wouldn’t have stumbled upon this gem. Under the Jewelled Sky is simply magical and it’s safe to say that I enjoyed every minute of it. The story, McQueen’s characterisation and Sophie’s intricate past and the way she finds closure is breathtakingly beautiful – I can’t recommend this highly enough.
Many thanks to Orion for sending me an e-copy of this book for review
Under the Jewelled Sky is out tomorrow, find out more here. Visit the Historical Novel Society tomorrow for Alison’s thoughts on researching a historical novel. For more extracts, features and exclusive giveaways visit the previous stops on our blog tour, starting with yesterday’s stop at Jackie Magpie.
About the author
Born to an Indian mother and an English jazz musician father, Alison McQueen grew up in London. After a convent education, Alison worked in advertising for 20 years before retiring to write full time. Her family story is one of the inspirations behind The Secret Children. Alison lives in Northamptonshire with her husband and two daughters. For more information about the author, visit her website & blog, Facebook page, Instagram, Pinterest or get in touch via Twitter @Alison_McQueen.