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Review: The Bombay Prince by Sujata Massey

The Bombay Prince (Perveen Mistry #3)
Sujata Massey
Allen & Unwin
2021, 342p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}: November, 1921. Edward VIII, Prince of Wales and future ruler of India, is arriving in Bombay to begin a four-month tour. The Indian subcontinent is chafing under British rule, and Bombay solicitor Perveen Mistry isn’t surprised when local unrest over the royal arrival spirals into riots. But she’s horrified by the death of Freny Cuttingmaster, an eighteen-year-old female Parsi student, who falls from a second-floor gallery just as the prince’s grand procession is passing by her college.

Freny had come for a legal consultation just days before her death, and what she confided makes Perveen suspicious that her death was not an accident. Feeling guilty for failing to have helped Freny in life, Perveen steps forward to assist Freny’s family in the fraught dealings of the coroner’s inquest. When Freny’s death is ruled a murder, Perveen knows she can’t rest until she sees justice done. But Bombay is erupting: as armed British secret service march the streets, rioters attack anyone with perceived British connections and desperate shopkeepers destroy their own wares so they will not be targets of racial violence. Can Perveen help a suffering family when her own is in danger? 

I have been enjoying this series so much – this is the third instalment and the first two were excellent so I was really looking forward to this one. It’s set in a tumultuous time in India where there’s unrest about British rule and there’s also a lot of differing religions and ethnicities and clashes are becoming more common. The Prince of Wales, Edward VIII is visiting and this causes a lot of feelings. A female student from a local university who is expected to turn out to watch the Prince’s parade approaches Perveen and asks if there would be repercussions for her study if she were to not show up. When that same student is found dead just after the Prince passes by, Perveen knows that it’s her duty to get the answers. She only spoke to her briefly but she admired her and she and Perveen are from the same religious background and so Perveen and her father offer to advocate for her family during the inquest and make sure they can do their burial rites as quickly as possible, which is very important in their customs.

I know so little about India in this time and this is just a bit of a snapshot although Perveen and her family are very wealthy and privileged so there’s definitely a lot that is not particularly showcased here. But even they are dramatically affected in the riots that spring up after the Prince’s procession and are forced to leave their family home for the safety of a hotel after there is looting and violent behaviour. Perveen herself also is accosted by young men who would’ve done her harm, if not for the intervention of someone else, which allows her to escape to safety. But although she’s very shaken up by the experience, she doesn’t allow it to prevent her from continuing her investigating and her advocacy for the young student, especially when her death is ruled a homicide.

In the previous book, a little seed of…something…was planted and there are huge complications involved with it but I got pulled into it anyway. I was hoping that we’d see that person again and this book grants my wishes and even advances it a little, although the complications remain/are increased. Perveen is not a free agent to do as she wishes, for many reasons, not least the customs and restrictions of her time and the fact that she’s a woman. She is the first female solicitor but she still faces a lot of prejudice and derision from many corners, although she also has a lot of people accept her services. But her father is definitely a man who respects tradition and custom and the way he treats Perveen and her brother differ markedly. Her father is an interesting character, there are times when he’s very strict and almost cutting to Perveen but there are other times when he’s very patient and teaches her law things and his pride in her achievements is evident. Apart from her father and the restrictions of her religion and class and position as a female, Perveen also has another reason why she cannot get involved with a man and until this is resolved (which seems unlikely to be anytime soon in India’s current situation) she’s prevented from any official attachment. I really enjoyed this development in the novel as well as the indication that there will definitely be more to come in the future.

This is a hugely interesting political time and it’s one I don’t know much about but I feel it’s explained really well and you get to see a small snapshot of what it was like for those that lived (albeit in a particular set of social circles) at this time. It was also an insight into university life in this time as well, the challenges and peculiarities of it, especially in regards to its female students.

I really enjoy Perveen as a character and her interest in justice and her determination. She manages to find ways to do things, despite the restrictions often placed on her and she sees things that others do not. She’s also good at getting people to confide in her and trust her as well.

Another really great book in this series and I’m keen for more.

8/10

Book #94 of 2021

The Bombay Prince is book #18 for my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

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Review: The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey

The Satapur Moonstone (Perveen Mistry #2)
Sujata Massey
Allen & Unwin
2020, 384p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

India, 1922: It is rainy season in the lush, remote Satara mountains southeast of Bombay, where the kingdom of Satapur is tucked away. A curse seems to have fallen upon Satapur’s royal family, whose maharaja died of a sudden illness shortly before his teenage son was struck down in a tragic accident. The kingdom is now ruled by an agent of the British Raj on behalf of Satapur’s two maharanis, the dowager queen and the maharaja’s widow. 

The royal ladies are in dispute over the education of the young crown prince, and a lawyer’s council is required—but the maharanis live in purdah and do not speak to men. Just one person can help them: Perveen Mistry, India’s only female lawyer.  Perveen is determined to bring peace to the royal house and make a sound recommendation for the young prince’s future, but knows she is breaking a rule by traveling alone as a woman into the remote countryside. And she arrives to find that the Satapur palace is full of cold-blooded power plays and ancient vendettas. Too late, she realizes she has walked into a trap. But whose? And how can she protect the royal children from the palace’s deadly curse?

This is the second book in this series and I have to say I am enjoying the experience. I haven’t read a lot of books set in India at all and most of what I have read is either present day or has been during Victorian times. This is post-Victorian but India is still very firmly under British rule. In this book, Perveen’s unique situation as the only female lawyer in India is called to be of use again as she is the only person who can travel to the kingdom of Satapur to speak to two women who keep purdah, which means they do not admit any men into their presence. The two women are both maharani or queens, one a dowager and one the widow of a recently deceased maharajah whose son will assume the rule when he turns eighteen, which is still some eight years away. The two women disagree on the path his education should take and are at a stalemate.

This book takes Perveen away from all that is familiar to her, including her friends and family as she travels to quite a remote location. She must overnight with a British agent, Colin Sandringham and then travel by palanquin to the castle, a trip of several hours over rough and difficult terrain that is often seemingly cut off when the weather is bad. Perveen immediately finds herself embroiled in not only the politics of the two castles (the older being the domain of the Dowager maharani and the newer the home of the younger mother of the maharaja) but also an even deeper mystery and element of danger that suggests that everyone in line to the ruling throne is in danger. The current maharaja, a child of just ten, has lost a father and brother in recent times and his mother has a fear that if he remains, he will not reach his majority. A fear that, the longer Perveen spends there, the more she realises is not without foundation.

I really liked the way that this built both the tension between the two maharani and also the overall threat of something greater. Perveen has a lot to figure out in quite a short time and she must also make a recommendation to the British regarding the young maharaja’s welfare and future. She’s well aware that her decision will not please everyone and that each of the women have very strong ideas on how they want the boy to be educated and raised to assume his duties. Perveen is also of a different background and seemingly continually makes mistakes in her interactions with the Dowager maharani in particular, which puts her on the back foot a lot and leads to her feeling chastised and embarrassed. There are seemingly a lot of rules of etiquette, some of which Perveen forgets or is unfamiliar with, especially in regards to the child maharajah who is treated with difference and revered even though he is also still just a child who still requires parenting with all that entails.

There’s a few interesting developments for Perveen in this book, namely Colin Sandringham. It’s a complicated situation, as people who have read the first book will know well. Perveen has many limitations on her interactions both because of circumstance and also custom/etiquette. I am hoping that the seeds sewn here are something that continues to develop in the books to come as I really think it adds a very appealing element and gives Perveen a lot of room to experience new things and grow in her personal as well as her professional life. The situation that Perveen is in at the moment is hopefully not the one she must remain in for the rest of her life.

This did have a slightly slow start but I ended up enjoying it as much as I did the first book. I hope there’s another instalment soon so that I can see what is next for Perveen and her unusual cases as India’s only 1920s female lawyer.

8/10

Book #96 of 2020

 

 

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Review: A Murder At Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

A Murder At Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry #1)
Sujata Massey
Allen & Unwin
2020, 385p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Bombay, 1921: Perveen Mistry, the daughter of a respected Zoroastrian family, has just joined her father’s law firm, becoming one of the first female lawyers in India. Armed with a legal education from Oxford, Perveen also has a tragic personal history that makes her especially devoted to championing and protecting women’s rights.

Mistry Law is handling the will of Mr. Omar Farid, a wealthy Muslim mill owner who has left three widows behind. But as Perveen goes through the papers, she notices something strange: all three have signed over their inheritance to a charity. What will they live on if they forefeet what their husband left them? Perveen is suspicious.

The Farid widows live in purdah: strict seclusion, never leaving the women’s quarters or speaking to any men. Are they being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous guardian? Perveen tries to investigate and realizes her instincts about the will were correct when tensions escalate to murder. It’s her responsibility to figure out what really happened on Malabar Hill, and to ensure that nobody is in further danger.

This is the first in a new series by author Sujata Massey featuring Perveen Mistry a young woman who works as a solicitor with her father in Bombay. She’s one of the first female lawyers in Bombay although she cannot appear in court. Billed for fans of Phryne Fisher and Precious Romotswe, this was published overseas as The Widows Of Malabar Hill.

Perveen is in her early twenties, an incredibly intelligent woman who works alongside her father, a respected lawyer. Her family is also well known in construction, which is the field that Perveen’s brother has continued into. Perveen realises that her gender gives them an advantage when the widows of one of her father’s clients, a Mr Omar Farid, sign away their inheritances. The three wives live in purdah, they do not see or speak to other men. But as a woman, Perveen is permitted to visit them and with her senses tingling that something may be amiss, she sets off to interview each wife individually to ascertain how much they understand of their inheritance and whether or not they actually are aware what they are agreeing to. She recognises that at least one of the wives is probably illiterate and it’s possible they are being manipulated by a male guardian.

I really enjoyed this. It begins in Bombay in 1921 – Perveen is not long graduated from Oxford in England and she’s one of the first female solicitors working in India. The country is a mix of ethnicities and religions – Perveen and her family are Parsi, originally from Persia (Iran). There are Muslims, Hindus and also English people living and working in India as the country was under British rule until 1947. Perveen may be one of the first female solicitors but there are still many customs and proprieties that she must observe. She has a certain amount of freedom (and probably claims more for herself than would be the custom of the time) and as the story moves forward, it also goes back in time some 5 years earlier to detail the circumstances that led to Perveen studying overseas.

I haven’t read a lot of books set in India before and most of the ones I have read have been more set in Victorian times. I enjoyed learning a bit more about the challenges Perveen faces as a lawyer, particularly in terms of different religious customs and laws as well as communicating in different languages. She undertakes the case of the three widows with gusto, determined to make sure that they have fair representation and are not being taken advantage of. Her father is quick to advise caution but I get the feeling that caution isn’t really how Perveen does things. She’s headstrong and determined – she wouldn’t be a lawyer in this time and place if she wasn’t. She’s also compassionate, intuitive and courageous as well. She manages to relate to each of the three very different widows, imparting information that they need to know as getting them to open up to her. She doesn’t back down to the threat of bullying and physical violence, even though it triggers terrible memories for her. And she perseveres, even when this case seems to bring nothing but trouble and danger.

I also liked Perveen’s background. It was well laid out, concealing just enough from the reader until key points, so that they could understand how Perveen is where she is at this stage in her life. She’s still only young but the circumstances have rendered her somewhat older than she seems to be and her prospects for the future are not those of any other young woman in Bombay. I was unfamiliar with the Zoroastrian religion before reading this book and found the author’s portrayal of Perveen’s struggle to reconcile her more modern devotion with the restrictions placed upon her far from home, very well done. The struggle of duty versus staying true to her own beliefs, wanting the freedom to make her own choices and live her life how she wishes to, not according to the traditions and wishes of someone else. Her heartbreak and devastation is obvious but her fighting spirit is unbroken and the way in which her parents supported her and assisted her was really wonderful.

There’s already been a second novel in this series published overseas and I’m really looking forward to when it becomes available here. I’m really interested in learning more about Perveen and following her career as she makes her way and there’s a lot of potential within the setting for some really interesting mysteries.

8/10

Book #9 of 2020

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