In Parry’s debut novel, a 12-year-old orphan finds herself embroiled in a royal mystery.
Having lost her mother in a monsoon shortly after birth, Isabella Rockwell was raised in India by her devoted father, a sergeant in the English army, and Abhaya, their loving housekeeper. A secret mission pulls her father away, but when he vanishes and is presumed dead, Isabella undertakes a futile search for him. Shortly after, she’s sent from the only country she’s ever known to a London household. She’s meant to learn a trade, but indentured servitude doesn’t suit her headstrong, independent nature, so she quietly slips out onto London’s filthy streets in a bitter winter. She finds herself, à la Oliver Twist, adopted by a group of endearing orphans who scrabble for food and artfully steal to get by. In an opportune moment, Isabella heroically saves the life of a well-dressed young girl on a runaway horse, injuring herself in the rescue. She wakes to find herself in Kensington Palace, the home of Princess Alixandrina Hanover, the girl she saved. During her convalescence, the two girls establish a sisterly relationship, and the irony of their contrasting situations becomes a driving force in the story’s narrative: Isabella is an impoverished orphan now freed from the bonds of parental authority, yet once cherished by her father and housekeeper; Princess Alix, virtually a prisoner of the palace, feels desperately unloved by her family. Meanwhile, suspicious, near-fatal accidents continue to befall Alix, and Isabella secretly begins to investigate. Are the accidents merely coincidental, or is someone in the royal family trying to kill the princess? All the while, Isabella continues to dream about returning to her beloved India. Will she betray Alix and steal from the palace to pay for her passage? Parry’s descriptions are as varied as they are rich, from the scents of Abhaya’s Indian healing herbs to the sounds of London’s bustling streets and the opulence in the British royalty. A sizable cast of beautifully developed, memorable characters makes solving the mystery even more deliciously puzzling, and readers will be guessing to the surprising end. The well-written dialogue is full of charming colloquialisms, and much of Parry’s descriptions border on the poetic: “The Duchess’ voice was light and insubstantial, like the bubble on top of milk just arrived in the pail.”
Imaginative and touching; like India, a sparkling jewel in the crown.