M. J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine is an adventure/mystery novel set in 1830’s colonial India. It’s told in first-person point of view of Lieutenant William Avery, a young soldier working for the East India Company. He hasn’t been in India long, and, despite all the romantic books about it he read as a child, doesn’t really like what he’s seen of it. He’s very homesick and doesn’t relish spending the rest of his career there. Avery gets sent on a special mission to track down a famous author, Xavier Mountstuart, who has disappeared while researching his new book. Leading the mission is irascible Jeremiah Blake, a reluctant Company agent who is rumored to have “gone native.” They journey through India and soon discover that there’s more to Mountstuart’s disappearance than they suspected.
Avery is sweet. This seems like a weird thing to say when he spends so much time being a hotheaded asshole, but you definitely get the sense that he’s not a bad kid at heart. He just wants to go home. I enjoyed his POV, despite sometimes wanting to smack him when his temper gets him in trouble. He’s naive, and somewhat proud, but stunningly loyal to the people he’s close to. I loved watching his relationship with Blake and his fellow travelers progress throughout the book.
The author, Miranda Carter, was a writer of historical nonfiction beore she wrote this book. You can tell she’s not only a master researcher, but she really understands the time and place she’s writing about, rather than just regurgitating buzzwords onto the page. The Strangler Vine is full of historical and cultural terminology in a way that’s deeply immersive rather than distracting (and there’s a glossary in the back, if needed!). Her prose is wonderful and captures the feel of the Victorian era without being too dense or too modern.
I’m giving The Strangler Vine five stars. I had fun reading it, and was sad when it ended. (Also, look at that cover – isn’t it beautiful?) I believe the next book in the series is not out yet in America, but is available on amazon.uk. I may just have to order it!