India is the setting for Alison McQueen's novels, The Secret Children and Under the Jewelled Sky, and it's a country which is literally in her blood, as her mother is Indian. Perhaps as a result of this close connection, she has a feel for its depiction in fiction but uses that sensitivity so that her satisfying stories are seasoned with just the right amount of detail based on place and period, and her research - though clearly comprehensive - is incorporated with a light hand.
Under the Jewelled Sky is a bittersweet romantic novel which begins in the late 1940s as the country looks towards independence and inevitable social and cultural change. Its main character is Sophie Schofield, the young daughter of a doctor who is physician to a maharaja. The family lives in the vast and opulent palace where Sophie is isolated and lonely until by chance she meets Jag, the son of the maharaja's bearer, and a close but forbidden friendship develops.
Ten years on, Sophie is married to Lucien, a diplomat, and the two take up a New Delhi posting, living in an ex-pat enclave with a full if shallow social life. But all is not well with the marriage, and it is a very different side of India which seems to have a hold over Sophie. Then events take a dramatic turn ...
The book gives us a glimpse of the old order, of autocracy, unimaginable riches, and a vanished way of life; it moves on to partition and to a time of mass movement of people, rioting, refugee camps, displacement and death; and then it shows us the glamour of a privileged group in the late '50s, and the gentle charm of life in the hill station Ootacamund. This background gives colour and pace to the central coming-of-age story which is one of love, loss, and loyalty, and which is a very engaging read.