by Jamie Freveletti
Don't you wonder why some books gain iconic status while others, equally as wonderful, don't? ZEMINDAR is one of those books. A sweeping historical epic that accurately portrays life in India at the time of the Sepoy Mutiny (1st Indian War of Independence) of 1857. If you thought our own Civil War was bloody, read about the residence at Lucknow when under siege.
Valerie Fitzgerald's family lived in India and her portrayal of both the country and the historical facts surrounding the uprising is fascinating. The book is long--I think over 800 pages, but you won't notice. You'll be fighting along with both the Indians and English, because she shows how the mutiny is instigated by foolish decisions.
The story begins with Laura Hewitt, a single, poor relation to her cousin Emily heading from England to India on a trip. Emily marries Charles, and Laura goes with them to India for what she believes will be a vacation. Charles is related to Oliver Erskine, a powerful zemindar, which is the term for wealthy landowners in India. Zemindars not only ran massive estates, but meted out justice and controlled vast areas of land. Oliver is one of the wealthiest.
Laura slowly becomes fascinated with both Oliver and India. She embraces the country even as it begins to unravel and she and Oliver, Emily, Charles and their servants slowly reveal their true characters when they are tested by war. Fitzgerald's descriptions of the battle scenes, the siege at Lucknow, and the political bumbling and outright criminal behavior gives a compelling description of a bloody stage in India and England's history.
If you've read the FLASHMAN series by George McDonald Fraser you know how interesting the history of English occupation in various countries can be. While Fraser's protagonist is an anti-hero, Oliver Erskine is more akin to a Rhett Butler than Flashman, and Fitzgerald's Laura Hewitt begins as a quiet woman whose intelligence and fearlessness during a violent time causes you to root for her. She's no Scarlet--she's neither foolish nor vain. Instead she's more akin to an Elizabeth Bennett of Pride and Prejudice.
Watching Oliver and Laura fight off hordes of attackers and flee through India makes for a classic action adventure novel. That the war they are fleeing was real makes it all that more gripping.
You'll love this book. Valerie Fitzgerald never wrote another. I don't know why, but this one is a tour de force.