Last year, I had the pleasure of picking up The Widows of Malabar Hill, the first book following the life of female lawyer Perveen (review here). Needless to say I loved it and was super excited to pick up the sequel. Surprisingly, I would say I even loved this one more!
Title: The Satapur Moonstone
Author: Sujata Massey
Genre: Crime, historical fiction, adult
Published on May 14th 2019 by Soho Crime
Rating: 4 stars
During the rainy season in India, 1922, Perveen Mistry, one of India’s only female lawyers, is called by the British Raj to settle a dispute between the two Purdah-observing marahanis of the princely state of Satapur. After the marahja’s sudden death and the first male heir was killed in a tragic hunting accident, everyone seems to think there is a curse plaguing the royal family. But Perveen is called to decide on the young, future maharaja’s education. Should he be homeschooled? Sent to a boarding school in India? Or should he attent a prestigious British school?
But trouble seems to follow Perveen, as she quickly finds herself between a rock and a hard place. Cold-blooded power plays and ancient vendettas soon spring up and threaten everyone’s safety. How can Perveen rotect the royal children from the palace’s deadly curse?
Disclaimer: I received an eARC from the publisher via Edelweiss. However, this has not affected my review of the novel.
Where do I even start with this novel? There are so many amazing elements to it. I picked it up during final’s week and, honestly, it’s what kept me going. I was so hooked from page one! So let me tell you all the things I loved about The Satapur Moonstone.
The plot is captivating from page one. We are thrown right into the novel’s action by seeing Perveen Mistry travel from Bombay to the princely state of Satapur. From here, we see her acclimate to the social customs and norms of Satapur, which are much different from the ones she is used to back in her hometown of Bombay.
The entire novel is centered on Perveen’s stay at the royal palace in Satapur and on her findings while there. Since the two living maharanis observe Purdah (meaning, they do not contact with men who are not their servants), Perveen is the only lawyer around who can help them decide what’s best for the young future maharaja.
I loved the focus of the plot on education, class, social mobility, and being a female. It makes for such an interesting read! All the details added about Indian society in general made me super curious to look things up on Google, so that is a massive plus for me! Any book that makes me learn is a book I’ll love.
But the most important part: the mystery is SO DARN COMPELLING! When reading a mystery or crime novel, it’s important to have a cohesive narrative covering every aspect related to the crime. It’s a fine line that’s hard to walk between revealing too much and not revealing enough. And I couldn’t agree more that Massey walks that fine line brilliantly. I couldn’t guess the outcome of the mystery by the time I had read half the book!
All in all, it’s a super engaging plot. Kept me always at the edge of my seat!
The pace is also terrific. There isn’t always something going on (which is great, in my opinion), so you are given enough time to process all the mystery and intrigued weaved into the plot.
When the plot does pick up, however, it’s fascinating to see how quickly things change! I don’t want to give away anything, so let’s just say that quick pace = important changes in this novel. Everything seems to be perfectly planned out.
I think my favorite part of it all was the stunning setting. The Satapur Moonstone is set in the princely state of Satapur in the lush and remote Sahyadri mountains. Everything is described so beautifully. We get amazing passages about the vegetation, about the winding roads leading to the royal palace, about the animals that live in the area, and about the villages that dot the mountains.
As it is set in a conservative part of India in the 1920s, we read a lot about how women are treated. Perveen being a woman herself who has chosen to follow a quite unusual career path has a very unique point of view about how women should be in charge of their own fates. This could read as patronizing, but Sujata Massey writes it so well that we see the reason behind Purdah and the reason behind staying at home to care for the children. By no means does she justify it, but at least she tries to be critical of it and find out why women choose (or follow) these paths.
There’s also a great deal written about the Indian caste system. I am not very familiar with this topic, so I won’t go much into it for fear of getting something wrong. But in The Satapur Moonstone, the reader is exposed to characters of different castes — from the Brahimis to the Untouchables. It’s such a complex system the British characters try desperately to understand but fail to see the parallels that can be drawn to the British class system. If you have any book recommendations about the Indian caste system, please let me know!!!
But, alas, this was not a perfect book. There were some things I had a few issues with The Satapur Moonstone.
The first was that sometimes the comments Perveen made were a little flat and simplistic. She would say “I couldn’t help but think how stuck these women were” (something along those lines, about their female condition. It felt a little too much like telling, not showing. I would have appreciated it a great deal more if we had gotten a deeper dive into her mind when she says these kinds of things.
Secondly, was how disability rep (amputation) was talked about in the novel. Since I have no physical impairments, I can’t really say that the language used to describe Colin’s (the British representative of Satapur) disability is problematic. But sometimes, the way Perveen referred to his way of walking felt a little too patronizing and rude. I kept expecting for Colin to confront her about this, but the moment never came.
The Satapur Moonstone is an amazing, thrilling novel. It takes you through the lives of Indian pre-Revolution royalty with all the intrigue, political scheming, and secrets. It’s definitely worth a read if you enjoy mystery and want to give historical fiction a shot!
What do you think of The Satapur Moonstone? Would you pick it up? What other books similar to this one would you recommend? I want to hear your thoughts! ☺️