As I said a few posts ago, I’ve been broadening my reading horizons recently. Reading ‘The Secret Mandarin’ by Sara Sheridan was a departure into yet another genre – that of the historical novel.
It’s been years since I read this kind of book and I must say it was a welcome return. It reminded me of the novels of M.M. Kaye that I read many, many years ago.
The story begins in nineteenth century London and soon moves to China. It’s China just after the Opium wars – a closed and secretive place. The book is partly based on fact. The main characters are Robert Fortune, who was a real-life botanist and plant collector and his (fictitious) sister-in-law Mary Penney. Fortune journeys to China in search of tea plants. He hopes to cultivate them in India and to make a lot of money. Through a series of events, and, at first, against her will, Mary accompanies him on this perilous smuggling expedition. They have to travel in disguise as a mandarin and his male secretary.
I don’t want to give too much away so that’s enough about the plot except to say the ending is – satisfying.
This is a big novel. It’s more than just historical fiction. It’s an adventure story, a thriller and a romance. It has got love, intrigue, suspense – even pirates. The pace is slow but it never drags – it perfectly matches the long trek through China’s interior.
The author has obviously done masses of meticulous research. The detail – historical, geographical, cultural and botanical is incredible.
The character of Mary is wonderful – a feisty, strong, passionate woman. The style is sort of Jane Austen with balls and without walls.
It’s an absorbing and transporting read and I recommend it.
The book is available on Amazon http://www.amazon.uk in paperback (£5.59) and e-book format (£3.99).
Sara has a new book ‘The Secret out of the Sands’ due out in February.