Ashton Pelham-Martyn is but a baby when his explorer/linguist father dies of cholera in the Himalayas. His Indian nurse takes the boy and tries to find his people but this has all happened against the background of a massive mutiny against the English and so she keeps the child, renames him Ashok and raises him as her own until the time he is taken into the household of a royal household far from the violence. It is here that Ash first meets and befriends the princess Anjuli, a young child who is neglected by the women of the harem and by her half-brother. But treachery is afoot and in the end Ash has to flee for his life. Learning of his British heritage, Ash is eventually sent to England to complete his education before being posted back to India as a military officer.
The story picks up steam once Ash returns to India and is entrusted with the escort of two Rajasthani princesses to their new husband. This escort will change everything. The book is definitely a romance, an adventure story, a history of the British Raj, and it truly sweeps across the landscape of colonial India. It captures a nation simmering closer to a boil under the rule of colonizers. And while the picture it draws is engrossing, it is also sometimes quite stereotypical with the either noble or conniving natives, the bumbling and insensitive British, and Ash Pelham-Martyn, the ever-understanding bridge between the two worlds, a man who is driven by love: love of Juli, love of people, and love of the land of his birth. As a sentimental picture, this is pleasing and the story romps along at a good pace but there is just a bit too much rosiness to make this completely satisfying. India is an eminently fascinating place and the turmoil and tension in the waning years of the British Raj make for great stories. Ash's identity crisis, his tolerance of all people, and his ability to understand many sides of a story are certainly object lessons we still need to learn, especially in many parts of the world. Most fans of historical fiction will rate this one as a favorite of all time. I think I was just looking for something a bit more realistic although had I read it many years ago when I first bought it, I think it would have hit my all time list too. Unfortunately, timing is everything and while I thought it was a good read, it wasn't all I had hoped.