This historical novel is set in the Indian state of Assam. (You’ve heard of Assam tea? This is where it comes from.) The story is exotic and foreign, yet still a familiar tale of young love and adventure. Our heroine, Layla, is a strong , independent Hindu woman facing dramatic societal and personal upheaval… and snakes. Why does it have to be snakes?
I enjoyed the vivid imagery interwoven all throughout the book. The well-developed characters give the book a global feel because we have not only Indian but also Russian, English , and Scottish people crossing the pages.
The story starts out in the town of Silchar and ends up on a tea plantation out in the remote jungle. Tea plantation, tea estate, tea garden. Doesn’t that sound elegant? Quite the opposite. I had no idea that the farms where tea was grown were so wild and rough. Those working and living on the tea plantations were basically out in the wilderness and often had to resort to frontier justice.
The author, Shona Patel, is the daughter of a tea planter so information about tea farming is infused into the story. One tidbit of information that stuck with me was that the tea bushes weren’t planted in straight rows but instead zig-zagged. Why? Because the sharp turns slowed down rogue elephants and gave the tea pickers a chance to escape since elephants can’t change direction as quickly as humans.
The book is dedicated “To the pioneer tea planters of Assam, ‘the iron men in wooden ships,’ who gave their lives to grow the finest tea in the world.”