Since I started by blog, I’ve done an annual Advent Book Calendar highlighting books I have enjoyed and authors I really like. This year I thought I’d do an Advent Book Calendar with a twist; for each day leading up to Christmas, I’m going to post a review of a book to which I’ve given only one star (Throw a book at this one) or two stars (Don’t put this book in your book bag). Though I would not recommend these books, others have disagreed with me. Each book, on Goodreads, has received a 3 or 4 Star average rating.
Review of Under the Jewelled Sky by Alison McQueen
I will preface my review by stating that historical romance is not my preferred genre. When I requested this title, I found it classified under literary fiction.
Sophie Grainger arrives in India in 1957 with her diplomat husband. This is not her first time in the subcontinent since she lived there ten years earlier when her father was a maharaja’s physician. During her first stay in India, she had an unconventional relationship with Jag, the son of an Indian servant, and the repercussions of that relationship follow her during her second sojourn: “memories have a habit of storing themselves up, like shoving things into the back of a closet. They’ll live there for so long as you care to leave them, and then, many years from now, you might find yourself cleaning out that closet one day and out they will tumble, all your memories of yesteryear.”
Characters are problematic in this novel. Many tend to be either too good or too evil to be believable. Veronica Schofield, Sophie’s mother, is part of the latter group. She is shallow, hypocritical, and abusive; one is hard pressed to find a positive quality. Jag, on the other hand, is just the opposite. He may be the romantic hero but surely there must be something this man cannot do? How many times does he cross a large swath of India? Even minor characters are unbelievable. Jag’s aunt, for instance, is just so loving and accepting of everyone. These characters are just not realistic.
The number of coincidences is also an issue. In a country with “four hundred million people,” Jag’s uncle locates Joy? In the midst of the Partition which saw the displacement of millions, Jag is chosen to work in the same clinic as Dr. Schofield? The author tends to emphasize the star-crossed lovers element a bit too much. Sophie is the one to initiate a kiss and then she and Jag totally discard all the values of their upbringing? Jag’s behaviour while a guard at the residential enclave does not ring true. Why doesn’t he identify himself sooner when he surmises the state of Sophie and Lucien’s marriage?
The historical element, on the other hand, is not emphasized sufficiently. The upheaval of the Partition is not conveyed very strongly. There is an attempt to show some of this during Jag’s stay at the refugee camp, but general descriptions such as “this unimaginable scene of human tragedy” do little to give a real understanding of the suffering of the displaced.
This novel would probably appeal to those readers who enjoy historical romances. It has the exotic location and the everlasting love that knows no bounds of time and space.