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Time hopping, reincarnation, and romance with a little last minute thriller thrown are all the rage as of late. The most recent entry into this compilation of genres is Lucinda Riley's The Midnight Rose.
What begins with a 20-something actress filming in the English countryside while a 90-year-old Indian matriarch entrusts her legacy with her business obsessed grandson travels through the first world war in England, a maharajah's palace, and a young Indian woman coming into her own and crossing cultural and caste barriers for love.
Rebecca is a talented actress at the rising peak of her career. She needs to decide whether or not to accept her boyfriend's proposal of marriage as she embarks for her next movie filming in England. She finds the palatial Astbury Hall imposing and beautiful and quiet as the current lord of the manner welcomes her into his home while she is filming.
Anahita is an 11-year-old girl of royal lineage whose family has fallen on hard times. When she makes friends with the wayward and headstrong princess Indira, she changes her fortunes. Anahita, Anni to friends and family, becomes Indira's companion and is schooled in England along with her friend. Life is very different in cold and wet Britain, but it also offers Anni a chance to broaden her horizons and discover love -- and death.
These two young women are fated to cross paths through Anni's grandson who is trying to find out Anni's history and the truth about her son Moh's fate.
Riley cuts a broad swath through three continents and nearly 100 years of history in her attempt to bring the intricate tale to of The Midnight Rose to life. The characters are interesting but come off a bit 2-dimensional outside of Anahita, Rebecca Bradley, and Ari, Anahita's grandson, Ari. These three are more richly developed than the rest, although there are quirks and some details that stand out in all the characters.
What is difficult to believe is the ending of the story, or at least the high point of a last minute intrigue that was not well developed or worked into the plot. The Midnight Rose is a sprawling book that could have been longer and fared better with all the plot lines. So much of the situations and relationships seem rushed and incomplete as though some of the details got lost in translation.
Outside of mentions of filming and sitting in Makeup, there is little information about the career that is central to Rebecca's life. The zenana in the Maharajah's court is more detailed and given much more time and attention. Much of the venues in The Midnight Rose are sketched in, but Riley seems more interested in life in India and Anahita than the rest of the characters and plots she attempts to weave together. Riley wastes no time in using every trick in the romance guide in setting up and breaking up the relationships and little of that is useful or believable.
However, I did enjoy much of The Midnight Rose, even though the actual rose plays a cameo role -- a very small cameo. The first part of the book is slow and doesn't really get moving and interesting until about a third of the way through where it plods and loses its way a bit in the middle only to go racing through the last part of the book. Anahita's story is fascinating and her view of London and the world outside of the British Raj is predictably difficult and clannish. The book could use a few hundred more pages to do the subject justice and give the characters room to grow and evolve.
I'd give The Midnight Rose 3/5 stars for effort and some wonderful historical details.