An alternative to the British occupation of India.
Publisher: Premier Digital Publishing
First Published: 27th August 2013
Date Reviewed: 17th March 2014
In 1800s Londinium, those with power want to use the bridge that spans from their land to Bharata so that they can control the inferior continent and destroy the magic that has made its way from the east. Astoria wants to go to Bharata, too, but for a very different reason. Having been schooled in botany by her grandfather, and with no possibility of marriage ahead of her due to disability, she wants to find the legendary golden lotus, complete the herbarium, and find acclaim. But in a world where men rule, this will be difficult, and as the Bharati people begin to rebel against foreign rule, everything is subject to change.
A Thousand Perfect Things is a book with an interesting premise and thematic concept, but one that doesn’t always deliver.
The most obvious issue is the writing. The narrative, and more so the dialogue, are full of modern phrasing and Americanisms, meaning that the story reads as though not enough research was conducted. American ways of speaking such as ‘in back’ and ‘also was’, where Britons, and most definitely the Victorian middle classes, would say ‘in the back’ and ‘was also’, are jarring.
Along with the writing comes the transliterations of Hindi words. This isn’t an issue as such, but there are some well-known words, even to people otherwise unfamiliar with the language, that are written in a confusing form, such as ‘rani’ being written as ‘ranee’. Some of these words are actually more correct – that is to say that in Hindi the spelling is ‘raanii’ – but it does tend to be written as ‘rani’. Words like ‘pyaari’ become confusing when spelt ‘piari’, and again whilst the former is not completely correct, it is as correct as it could be without making words too long. There is a lot of Hindi which is then always translated, suggesting the dialogue is more a language lesson than part of the story.
There are some characters that aren’t developed enough, or are inserted into the story suddenly, that for the lack of information about them are hard to care for. These tend to be the characters who are killed off, but it is sad that they can be so easily forgotten.
Kenyon has included enough factual information about both England and India to make the story appealing as a historical, but the best part is undeniably her focus on the British occupation of India. In Kenyon’s Londinium and Bharata, Indians travel easily to London and vice versa, making, if not for equality (because after all, the English built the bridge for their own gain) then a good prelude to the later action. This is because Kenyon has, by way of historical fantasy, written the occupation in the way we might wish it had happened – namely that the English didn’t gain much control and were pushed back, the Indians retaining control of what was theirs. (Comparisons can be drawn between Kenyon’s story and the Sepoy Rebellion, however Kenyon’s action is on a larger scale.) In A Thousand Perfect Things, Kenyon shows how the cultural exchange, even if largely a one-way import of English to India, could be of interest to the receiving country, but that that should have been where it ended. The author sticks to history enough to make her point obvious – she has the English seeing the Indians as inferior, and takes a sharp look at the entitlement to discipline the English felt they had – and then changes the continuation and conclusion.
Through Tori, Kenyon shows how cultures can work more in harmony if given the chance, and whilst it’s the case that Tori’s change and views of Bharata are fanciful and sometimes a little condescending, they fit the idea of magic and the exotic fantasy that Kenyon uses. In some ways the exoticism is over the top, but it works as an extra study into how the Victorians saw India.
It should be noted that although the book begins with Tori being interested only in science, there is some romance in the book, and less time spent on science as the story continues. In regards to this romance, by itself it is an interesting element. First there is the sad fact that a woman with a relatively minor condition (at least we would view Tori’s club foot as such today as it is easily treated) has been told she’ll never marry. She is essentially a second-class person. The prejudice of Victorian society is matched by the second, happier, fact that by not having any thoughts of marriage, Tori is free from the limitations placed on married women. She may not be allowed to be a female Faraday, but she could devote herself to a scientific path nevertheless. It is these factors that make the romance one to watch – who will accept Tori; how will a romance impact her studies? The answer to these questions, and your reception of them, will depend on your reading preferences and whether you’re after a romantic thread. It must be said that Tori’s wish for a sexual awakening does appear out of the blue, but either way you feel about the romance you will likely appreciate the way that difference was not as much of a problem as Tori’s family believed.
The book has issues, but it also has an excellent theme, a very different idea in the design of the world, and a section on travelling that never becomes boring.
There may have been A Thousand Perfect Things for the people of Bharata to find, but in this story the better things help to overturn history and the book is finer for it.
I received this book for review from the publisher.
March 19, 2014, 6:48 am
I love alternate history, I always find it so fascinating so for that reason alone I would like to try it
March 20, 2014, 1:59 am
Oo, sounds interesting (in spite of the writing flaws). I’m with blodeuedd — I can’t resist alternate history. It’s always interesting to see what the writers would change in their alternative version of the world.
March 20, 2014, 3:31 am
I also love alternate history, though I am perhaps a bit more sensitive to it being done in India. I don’t know if I would be able to get over the issues with this one. I hate when authors spell words differently just to spell them differently. (Anne Bishop’s w’itch drove me INSANE.) And I need good characters! But glad to see India making its way into the fantasy pantheon :-)
March 21, 2014, 1:34 am
I’ve always loved the idea of alternate history and I think it’s great when a fiction book tackles tough issues, but given the flaws you saw in this one, I don’t think I’ll pick it up. Thanks for the review!