Friday, November 9, 2018

Story Review - Tasha Alexander's Star of the East

Star of the East by Tasha Alexander
Published by: Macmillan
Publication Date: October 28th, 2014
Format: Kindle, 65 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Emily prefers to avoid her mother as much as possible. As the holidays near her and Colin are of a mind to stay as far away from Kent and Darnley House as possible. Only this time Countess Catherine Bromley’s invitation is backed by the weight of the Queen who has requested Colin to go and that causes Colin concern. Emily's mother is hosting the Maharaja Ala Kapur Singh and his family. The maharaja was recently awarded the Order of the Star of India from Queen Victoria and will be spending Christmas itself with the Queen at Osborne House. So why would the Queen want Colin at Darnley House? Emily and Colin dutifully pack themselves and all three of their boys off to Kent. The house party, despite being a lavish affair with Christmas trees in every room and a feast the Countess views as worthy of the subcontinent, is rather small, being made up of the maharaja, his maharani Parsan, his two children, 18 year old marriage obsessed Sunita, and Oxford student Ranjit who brings his best friend Ned, and a few select neighbors. Everything seems to be perfect, even the fresh blanket of snow outside. Though that night the valuable, and cursed, diamond maang tika, the Star of the East, and it's companion golden bangle engraved with words of a spell of protection is taken from Sunita's room. Could the Queen have predicted this and sent Colin to avoid a scandal? Or is there another reason he and Emily were needed at Darnley House?

Tasha knows how to spin the perfect Christmas yarn for the anglophile in us all. A missing jewel, a narrow suspect pool, and all the possible culprits gathered around a Christmas tree in the proper drawing room waiting for Emily to do her version of the Agatha Christie denouement. But it's that cursed jewel that really has my heart going pitter-patter. Tasha has always included literature and authors of the day in Emily's stories, from Mary Elizabeth Braddon to Charles Dickens. In fact I've always felt that her work holds a bit of a debt to a friend of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, especially in Emily's second adventure, A Poisoned Season. Therefore to have Tasha do a full out homage to Collins's The Moonstone while also bringing back my favorite thief introduced in Emily's second adventure, Sebastian Capet, I couldn't have been happier. Though it's not just the fascinating story of how the Star or the East was cursed and then made wearable by it's companion bangle alone that made me so happy while simultaneously giving me a chill down my spin. Oh no, I have always had a love of India. I don't know it this is an offshoot of me being such an anglophile, but there's something about India that has always drawn me in. Therefore seeing the maharaja's family talking about their culture and heritage while set in a very traditional British tale made me happier than I could have thought. But isn't Christmas all about happiness?

Well, we hope Christmas is all about happiness, usually it's about familial guilt trips and bad memories. While Emily's struggles with her mother have been a continuing theme throughout this series I think that Star of the East, being set at her family's estate, gives us much more insight in one go then we've been able to string together over the course of the previous nine volumes. The story about how when her mother learned of Emily's terror of the "Chinese" bedroom that she vowed that Emily would be placed there once out of the nursery shows how controlling the Countess is. That she would be willing to scar a child to make them stronger makes me shudder. Luckily for Emily she had her father on hand, who is the Mr. Bennet of the lot. He was able, through the clever placement of his mother in the Chinese bedroom, to help Emily without incurring too much of his wife's wrath. You can see why Emily clings to the love and life she has formed with Colin. The joy her children give her, even Henry who is a bit of a troublemaker, is wonderful. She has created the life and family she wanted despite her upbringing. Contrasting Emily's past with Sunita's future is almost heartbreaking. For Emily to see a family, one who is very traditional, willing to embrace their daughter and her dreams once they realize how much it matters? Well, it's wonderful for Sunita, and more than a little sad for Emily.


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