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The First Afghan War is the subject of this sturdy first novel by a British writer who shows the same flare for military history-cum-romance as the American doyenne of that genre, Roberta Gellis. Though the story begins without distinction, as a pretty, but neurotically timid Englishwoman, Perdita Whitney, arrives in India around 1840, after being sexually abused by her uncle and separated for 30 years from her father, it quickly takes some sharp and interesting turns. Once on the great subcontinent (a place that ""seems to do something very strange to women""), Perdita learns that her father is an opium merchant with an Indian paramour; marries the man of her dreams, Lord Edward Beaminster, only to discover that he is homosexual; and finds herself in the thick of the gruesome British ""fighting retreat"" from Caubul, a military disaster at a high mountain pass that took the lives of some three thousand English soldiers, along with their wives and children. Perdita, the hopelessly introverted and unhappy young wife, develops surprising strengths through these turmoils and ends up winning her husband's affection after resisting the attentions of an admiring young American writer. The end is a disappointment, with the heroine never getting to enjoy the kind of real happiness she's earned; but beyond this, there can be few carps about a book that brings an obscure but fascinating chapter of British history to light--as well as a cast of characters to life--this convincingly.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Delacorte