by Morag McKendrick Pippin, historical (2004)
Leisure, $6.99, ISBN 0-8439-5452-3
Blood Moon Over Bengal is a book that you really should consider taking a peek at if you are an adventurous soul looking for a romance in a different kind of setting. Does 1932 India sound good to you? Set amidst a backdrop when Mohandas Ghandi and Jawaharal Nehru are rousing local nationalistic sentiments against the British colonials, this one features a developing romance between a British young woman and a half-British/half-Indian officer even as a villain is running around raping and killing young women.
Elizabeth Mainwarring has recently inherited plenty of money from a deceased uncle. However, with the only family she has left in this world currently stationed in India, she decides to take a detour from her planned trip to New Zealand to visit her father. She hasn't spoken to him for nine years. However, in India she finds herself thrust deep into intrigue. As an heiress as well as the daughter of Colonel Mainwarring, she is instantly accepted by the British expatriates. Alas, the man she has an eye on is Major Nigel Covington-Singh, the youngest son of a Maharajah who currently exists in a limbo of sorts as he is neither accepted fully by the Indians (he is too British to them) nor the British (he is, after all, an Indian). This is one relationship that will not go down well with many people, including Elizabeth's father. The murder spree taking place only spices things up when Nigel is charged to investigate the case and Elizabeth gets dragged into the mess one way or the other.
Blood Moon Over Bengal can be quite unpolished at times, but I don't really have much problems getting into the story because Ms Pippin is a good storyteller here, drawing me into her setting and her story without much effort. Oh, I notice that there are some technical problems here, such as the author's tendency to have her characters narrate things for the reader's enlightenment in a manner that can be best described as "straight out of a textbook". Also, the romance, which is actually quite fine, is not without its share of walking promiscuous/jealous ho characters and other clichés. While Nigel is a pretty acceptable hero who has become most cynical due to the prejudices he has to live with, Elizabeth's characterization is problematic in that the author tends to have Elizabeth decide or act in ways that do not seem to be in character. This heroine on the whole can be tough and smart - she flies a plane, people - but the author occasionally has Elizabeth coming up with a decision that runs contrary to what she may has been thinking about or doing previously without much explanation given to the reader.
But at the same time, this is a very engaging story due to the fact that Ms Pippin really can tell a story well. The setting is rich and the author also does a commendable job in bringing to life India in the turbulent 1930s. One can argue, and I won't disagree, that the author has a tendency to draw her characters in stark black and white shades, with the good guys holding on to opinions that may be too contemporary for folks back in those days without any credible reason other than the fact that they are the good guys. Nonetheless, the main characters are well-woven into the setting that for the most part they are as interesting and memorable as the backdrop. They are interesting, the story is interesting, and the author sucks me into the story and makes sure that I finish the book before I even dare to think about reading something else.
Therefore, while Blood Moon Over Bengal has its share of debut author mistakes, it remains a rather above average read due to the fact that the author can tell a story well and she makes sure that I don't forget that. She manages to evoke drama when she wants to and the suspense is actually most riveting despite the villain being the ubiquitous cartoon nutjob type. There is never a dull moment here, and I really appreciate that.
Therefore, if you are looking for something that is a little different from the usual romance fare, who knows, this one may be as good for you as it is for me.
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