I received this book from the publisher, Penguin SA, in exchange for an honest review.
The Strangler Vine is set in 19th century India, under the rule of the East India Company. A setting and time period that is uniquely interesting, as I have known almost nothing about it before I’ve read the book. It’s 1837 and Xavier Mountstuart’s new book is the talk of the moment, especially in the European circles. Scandalous allegations are made and everyone is wondering, which character refers to which real life person? Willian Avery, a young officer in East India Company, attended one such party where Mountstuart’s book is being discussed. Mountstuart, being a well-known poet, is also one of William’s heroes. He has read all his books and it’s amongst his most prized posessions.
William Avery was surprised that he was invited to attend the Company function and suspected that it might have something to do with an earlier task the company asked him to do – to approach one unsavoury person, Jeremiah Blake, on behalf of the Company. He was right, because at the function he was called aside and tasked, along with Blake, to search for Mountstuart who has gone missing. Is his disappearance in connection with the book he wrote? Why does the Company want Xavier? William isn’t happy about partnering with Blake and their adventure is off to a rocky start, similar to their first meeting, as Blake is quite a self-righteous character… and rude too.
Blake is well in touch with India’s culture and customs, which does make him a valuable companion on their search for Mountstuart. What later transpires, is that Mountstuart had strong opinions about the Thuggee department – a subset of the Company that were built to suppress the Thugs, who are supposedly Kali worshippers that brutally murders travelers all over India. Blake and Avery find out during their search that the Company has wildly exaggerated the stories about the Thugs, but what benefit could that be to them? Is it their ploy to have power over India?
This novel gives such insight into Victorian India, the arrogant Europeans who were ruling India in that era and the facts and myths of the Thugs. The descriptions of India are so vibrant, it’s almost like you can feel that suffocating heat, see the jungles and temples and visualize yourself walking aimlessly in the marketplaces. The story isn’t fast paced, I read it over quite a few days and believe it’s a story and it’s writing that you have to savor. Just like Blake, I love the Indian culture, it has always interest me. I don’t know much about the religion itself, but I am aware of the names of some of the Hindu gods and goddesses. When I read in the book that Kali is the goddess of death and destruction, I said to myself “I thought that was Shiva?” but upon reading up on Kali (on Wikipedia) I’ve learned that she was his consort. This was a nice adventure story, where the two main characters uncover the truth and the deceit behind the Thuggee department – a complete conspiracy? I would recommend this book if you are into adventure stories, I enjoyed it and the cover is AMAZING. You should see the book to understand!