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Like M. M. Kaye of The Far Pavilions, Drummond draws upon firm and lively research concerning the 19th-century British military presence in India--with less of Kaye's bi-cultural empathies or pageantry. . . but more depth and delicacy. Young Charlotte Scott, raised to decorum and high-principles by a worthy aunt in England, is on her way to the garrison of Meerpore in India where her father, Sir Rastin, is Resident. She's eager to meet him and her mother, Lady Felicia, whom she doesn't remember--and to re-une with her half-brother, soldier Tom. But alas, Felicia is no maternal comfort but rather a stunning, remote beauty whose advice centers on ""how to be a woman."" (""A perfectly formed body will only remain that way through absolute dedication to it."") And Sir Rastin is an unapproachable cold stick, while dear Tom is all wrapped up in his forthcoming marriage to spoiled Amy. So Charlotte directs her schoolgirl romanticism to dashing, gorgeously attired Major Colley Dupres, a constant companion to Felicia (in Sir Rastin's absence)--who confides his glamorous history (dubious) to Charlotte, a ""small brown sparrow"" frustrated in her attempts to please the local society types. At last, however, Charlotte is rescued from snickers and misery by the season's catch: Richard Lingarde, one of the few sane (and unheeded) voices deploring Britain's anti-Russian paranoia, which will lead to the doomed invasion of Afghanistan in 1838. And, in the aftershock of learning about the Felicia/ Colley affair, the naive Charlotte marries adoring Richard without passion: the marriage is destroyed when the hitherto unsensual Charlotte finally reveals her true passion. . . for another. Humiliated, hating, Richard prepares to march to Kabul: ""Let's hope the war will be long and bloody."" He'll have his wish--as, in a cross-hatch of blunders, the British are isolated miles into alien land. Meticulously and convincingly, Drummond chronicles the volcano-edge society at Kabul, the doomed missions and knife-slashing ambushes, the fall of Kabul, and the long death march--while Charlotte, witnessing horror and loss, at last understands the many ""lights and shades"" of human connections. A provocative love story with fine period action and rich ambience.

Pub Date: Aug. 31st, 1983
Publisher: St. Martin's