The Strangler Vine, historical fiction by M.J. Carter, published March 15, 2015 by Putnam's Sons
Setting: India in the early 1800s
Source: library book
The significance of the title as I see it: The strangler vine, a plant in India, feeds on other bushes and trees and covers them up eventually, smothering them. The vine in this case seems to refer to the British East India Company from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century in India, when it took over governing large areas of the country and according to the author, later began to strangle the native culture, customs, and habitat as it became itself enriched.
The book begins with an Historical Note:
The East India Company was launched in 1600 by a group of British merchants with ambitions to trade with the East. Over the next two centuries, it built up[ its own private army and gradually gave up its trading interests in favor of taking over and ruling large parts of India, making money out of taxation and out of its monopoly in the opium trade with China. It became a peculiar mixture of private company and instrument of the British state, and was arguably the world's first multinational. By 1832, the Company dominated the subcontinents, controlling much of what is now India, Bangladesh, and Nepal, with Calcutta as its capital....First sentence in the Prologue:
Central India, June 1832
He stumbles out from the mango grove and at that moment the thick monsoon clouds, which color the night a dull charcoal gray, shift. A sliver of moonlight shines through and he sees their bright, curved knives. Had the clouds not parted he would have blundered, laughing, straight through the gates, straight onto their blades.Recommendation:
Some of the characters in the novel are historical, but the main characters are fictional, though in realistic settings. William Avery, a young soldier, is asked to accompany a secret political agent, Jeremy Blake, to locate a missing writer who is known for his writings about Calcutta society. The writer has gone missing somewhere in India, possibly to find out more about the notorious bandits or Thuggees. What the two searchers find out on their perilous travel shocks them and shocked me as well. And it all revolves around the British East India Company and the lengths it went to in order to justify its position and hold on to India for so long.
Fascinating and somewhat suspenseful storytelling, meticulous background research, and intriguing characters and settings make this a book I would recommend for readers of British/Indian colonial history and fiction.
The novel was LONGLISTED FOR THE BAILEYS WOMEN'S PRIZE FOR FICTION 2014
FINALIST FOR THE CWA JOHN CREASEY (NEW BLOOD) DAGGER AWARD
My rating for The Strangler Vine was 5/5.