Wednesday 23 November 2016

#bookreview: A Thousand Perfect Things | Kay Kenyon

A Thousand Perfect ThingsA Thousand Perfect Things by Kay Kenyon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From this holy place he decided that should a thousand perfect things ever be found, the world would end. Therefore to preserve the world, Rama declared that every manifested though should have a flaw.

Astoria Harding has a tragic flaw. Her club foot has prevented her from participating in the many feminine pursuits of the day - dancing, socialising, finding a husband - so her grandfather, the renowned botanist Sir Charles Littlewood, has trained her in scientific methods and inquiry, nurturing in her an unnatural desire to follow in his footsteps. Tori's passions have been inflamed by the Nelumbo aureus, the holy thousand-petaled golden lotus from Bharata, seeing its discovery and documentation as her way into the men-only Royal Society. Her father's posting to Bharata and her chance to visit the famed Gangadhar Mahal seems fortuitous but soon proves to be a nest of intrigue and manipulation by the Anglics and the Bharatis, both alive... and dead.

Set in an alternate 19th century filled with magic, the social mores of the time seems evident throughout the book: white Anglica is the scientific, progressive continent; brown Bharata is the uncivilised, barbaric spiritual continent, ripe for Anglic exploitation and pity. It's also a time of uprising and rebellion, with the Bharatis fighting for their independence and the Anglics (some of them at least) coming to realise that Bharata is not theirs to conquer and keep. It seems that opinions and attitudes are changing for the better. I would like to think it was a well-written, nuanced view of colonialism and the interplay between England and India (with magic added in), but in some ways, there is still a tinge of White Saviourism to it: the Rana is weak, tempted by Anglic science whilst the Ranee lives in an opium dream; Sahaj is petulant; Jai needs Tori to lead him; the only person who knows the way to the Golden Lotus (a symbol for hope? liberation? holiness?), albeit guided by a Bharati spirit, is Tori. Tori herself becomes a legend - for what else is there for a white woman in a brown land?
The only Bharati with independent agency seems to be Mahindra, the sadhu.

Yet despite all this, which you don't actually think about until you start to analyse the book, A Thousand Perfect Things was a very satisfying read. Like the Golden Lotus, it blooms in hidden places, catching you unawares with its beauty. It's a journey through hidden walkways and dark caves to promises of light and liberation.

Note: I received a digital ARC of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

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