Thursday, August 15, 2002

Heart of India: William Carey's India

Heart of India, a three-volume historical fiction story by Linda Chaikin, takes place in 1790s India, in the days of British rule. The three books -- Silk, Under Eastern Stars, and Kingscote -- tell a story about Coral Kendall, heirress to a silk plantation in northern India. A Christian fascinated by the recent work of William Carey (missionary to India), Coral adopts an orphaned Indian baby -- believed to be an Untouchable, the lowest caste in India. She and the young child become very close, until tragedy comes when the boy is abducted -- and a body shows up later. But did Gem in fact die? Coral never forgets, and tries to discover the truth and get her child back.

This problem and its resolution cover all three books, a true three-in-one story rather than three separate stories in a series as is usually done. Added into the mix is a villain, Coral's Uncle Hugh Roxbury, determined to stop Coral's plans for a school, and other Indians opposed to her plans to start a missionary school for the poor Indian children.

A love triangle soon emerges as well, with Coral's heart torn between Dr. Ethan Boswell, whom the family expects her to marry, and the adventurous, sometimes-military Major Jace Buckley. As the story unfolds, their true characters are revealed, for an interesting and entertaining reading filled with suspense, deceit and betrayed trusts, and romance.

The historical backdrop includes brief meetings with John Newton, writer of "Amazing Grace" and a retired preacher in Olney, England by this time. The characters also discuss William Carey and his family, and so we learn of his wife's illness as well as his son Felix's later work. Other background information includes political discussions, sometimes confusing with the many geographical references and different warring groups. To help understand such references, the books include a basic map of India at the front, and a glossary of common India terms used. Thus we learn the difference between a ghari (a carriage) and a ghazi (political or religious radical).

The minor characters also develop and grow during the three books. Coral's two sisters are first seen as superficial and worldly, but later we see older sister Katherine mature. Younger sister Marianne also shows her devotion to Coral.

The "Heart of India" trilogy is fascinating and enjoyable historical fiction, with great adventure and romance against the backdrop of India during the time of William Carey’s missionary work.

Thursday, August 1, 2002

His Majesty's Envoy: Young George Washington

The Neophyte Warrior series, by Richard Patton, tells the life of young George Washington during the French and Indian war in the 1750s: a lesser-known period of Washington’s life and great story material. The first book in the series, His Majesty’s Envoy, introduces the 21-year-old Major and his early career, covering the time period from December 1753 through April of 1754 and events leading up to the French and Indian war.

Primarily a story based on Washington’s life, His Majesty’s Envoy expands from the known record with interesting characters who depict the actual French, Indian, and Colonial English involved in the conflict. Several scenes explain the politics of the war and the positions held by each side, and subplots explore the characters’ relationships and how the impending conflict may affect them. As the first in a series, the book ends rather abruptly, anticipating the next volume of the continuing story.

Though it starts out slowly, His Majesty’s Envoy soon builds interest through the characters and the rich historical background of this little known time period. The 21-year-old Washington himself seems nothing like the Revolutionary War era leader; of course hindsight makes it all the more interesting. The story expands also into Washington’s personal life, including his friendship with the flirtatious young Sally (Mrs. Sarah Cary Fairfax), who was married to his friend (and based on actual correspondence from Washington the following year, 1755).

Of particular interest, the author follows the Indian naming tradition, correlating the characters and how their names describe their true personality. One young Indian decides to change his name from "Sinking Canoe" to "Striking Eagle," though the name change seems inappropriate to his friend who insists on keeping his own birth name. Among the Colonial English, a young man named Pariah truly lives up to the meaning of his name.

His Majesty’s Envoy is a good beginning to what promises to be a solid historical fiction series, with strong character development and an in-depth look at the French and Indian War.