Book Review: 'The Goddess and the Thief' by Essie Fox

10 February 2014

Uprooted from her home in India, Alice is raised by her aunt, a spiritualist medium in Windsor, When the mysterious Mr Tilsbury enters their lives, Alice is drawn into a plot to steal the priceless Koh-i-Noor diamond, claimed by the British Empire at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars.

Said to be both blessed and cursed, the sacred Indian stone exerts its power over all who encounter it: a handsome deposed maharajah determined to claim his rightful throne, a man hell-bent on discovering the secrets of eternity, and a widowed queen who hopes the jewel can draw her husband's spirit back. In the midst of all this madness, Alice must discover a way to regain control of her life and fate...

****

Do you believe in other worlds, of lives ever after, of heavens on earth? My ayah did, and from her lips there dripped such honeyed promises. There was one tale she used to tell, and I heard it so often that, even now, I recall her every word by heart...

After the death of her mother, Alice Willoughby is brought up in Lahore, India by her ayah until her father decides that she must return to England, where she is left in the care of her aunt Mercy. Unfortunately, Alice is not fated to enjoy a peaceful upbringing as she becomes a victim of the scheming of her aunt and the mysterious Mr Tilsbury, a man who claims to have known her father during his time in India.

Primarily told from Alice's viewpoint, the story is also interspersed with dreams, letters and memories of past events, lending a beautiful poignancy to the unfolding narrative. Although fictitious, the novel features various historical figures, it refers to real historical events and is infused with Indian mythology, the majority of which were completely new to me. It  was fascinating - I never felt like any of these moments were signposted (*real life event fanfare*) but instead they were seamlessly woven throughout the story.

If you've already read and enjoyed Essie Fox's previous two novels (The Somnambulist and Elijah's Mermaid) you will love this. But even if you haven't read any of her works before, I truly recommend this. She has the power to conjure up Victorian London so beautifully, so evocatively, that you remain in her world long after putting the books down. Dark, gritty, fabulously well-researched, every detail of London life is captured in her words. I couldn't put this down but, at the same time, really tried to so that I wouldn't finish this too soon!

Highly, highly recommended.

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