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Despite the unwieldy tonnage (955 pages), this adventure/romance set in British India of a century ago is a diverting variant on the current commercial craze for Thorn-Bird-y mammoths. To begin with, there's a real, all-natural hero who harbors not one unclean thought; who accomplishes mega-feats of headlong daring; who rescues a princess from the vilest of durances; and whose only handicap is a nobly simplistic view of English bigotry (he's baffled) and later, Indian insularity. Yes, Ashton Hilary Akbar Pelham-Martyn (commonly known as Ash) is a good chap, and when allowed to hold forth at any length a somewhat tiresome chap, but his miles of exploits--flights, treks, and needle's-eye squeezes--take center ring. Orphaned at age four, mothered by an Indian woman, Ash knows naught of his Anglo ancestry till--after a massacre and a run for their lives--mama Sita dies revealing Ash's true parentage. Found by his ""other"" people, Ash is schooled in England but returns home joyfully to India, as a young man, to join the British Army. Thus begins his missions among edgy indian despots and lead-headed British brass, which are capped by the rescue of sad princess Juli during the frenzy of a suttee ceremony. Finally, after a multitude of dark matters--including a splendid, bloody, doomed battle--Ash and Juli, now married, set off to find their far, far pavilion. Not Paul Scott, not by a kilometer: the characters all move to one tune, and there are those garlands of light Brigade sentiment here and there which weaken Ash's soured view of warfare. However, Kaye shows a secure grasp of time and place--and keeps the track pounding with hooves. Don't be put off by clumps of Indian nomenclature and politics. The scenery's great and the action's super.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1978
Publisher: St. Martin's