Summary and book reviews of The Strangler Vine by Miranda Carter

The Strangler Vine

by Miranda J. Carter

The Strangler Vine by Miranda J. Carter
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2016, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kate Braithwaite

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About this Book

Book Summary

Set in the untamed wilds of nineteenth-century colonial India, a dazzling historical thriller introducing an unforgettable investigative pair.

India, 1837: William Avery is a young soldier with few prospects except rotting away in campaigns in India; Jeremiah Blake is a secret political agent gone native, a genius at languages and disguises, disenchanted with the whole ethos of British rule, but who cannot resist the challenge of an unresolved mystery. What starts as a wild goose chase for this unlikely pair - trying to track down a missing writer who lifts the lid on Calcutta society - becomes very much more sinister as Blake and Avery get sucked into the mysterious Thuggee cult and its even more ominous suppression.

There are shades of Heart of Darkness, sly references to Conan Doyle, that bring brilliantly to life the India of the 1830s with its urban squalor, glamorous princely courts and bazaars, and the ambiguous presence of the British overlords - the officers of the East India Company - who have their own predatory ambitions beyond London's oversight.

Calcutta, September 1837

The palanquin lurched again to the left and I felt a fresh wave of nausea. I pushed the curtains aside in the vain hope of a current of cool air, and waited for the moment to pass. The perspiration started anew from my neck and my back, then soaked into the chafing serge of my second-best dress uniform. The dull, sour odour filled me with dejection. Our uniforms were not washed quite as often as I would have liked as it caused the fabric to disintegrate even more swiftly than it would otherwise have done.

'Khabadur you soor!' Take care, you swine! I shouted at the bearers, more to relieve my feelings than anything else.

'William,' said Frank Macpherson, 'it will make no difference.' Nor did it. There was no response, nor had I expected one.

Calcutta was hot. Not the infernal, burning heat of May, but rather the sticky, enervating sultriness of September. We were the only thing in the empty afternoon streets of Whitetown&#...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Consider the characters of Jeremiah Blake and William Avery. How do they respond differently to the world around them? What defines their values?

  2. The modern term "thug" is derived from the historical usage depicted in the book, of the roving Indian band called the Thuggee. How our use of this word today similar to or different from its original meaning?

  3. Consider the structure of the novel, which contains elements of both a mystery and a journey or quest. How would you categorize this story? What nineteenth-century fiction might it be compared to?

  4. What is the significance of the title?

  5. M. J. Carter brought to the novel a strong sense of place, and India is as much a character as the protagonists. How is the country depicted? How ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

From a hanging in Jubbulpore to a tiger hunt in Doora and on to a mountain prison on the road to Mirzapore, The Strangler Vine is a riot of color and vibrancy. Carter is an historian and this is her first fictional outing. Certainly the novel is a highly detailed, vivid and authentic piece of historical writing. For all that it offers the reader however, it suffers from a slightly predictable plot and minimal character development.   (Reviewed by Kate Braithwaite).

Full Review (658 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

Making pleasing use of the developing bromance/adventure formula and a wealth of research, Carter delivers an engaging, skeptical, modern take on empire.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. [Carter] is masterly at keeping the reader guessing what's really going on. The final revelation is both jaw-dropping and plausible.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Carter's clever historical thriller is a winner. The details of life in 1830s India are enthralling, as is the history of the Thugs. Historical fiction fans who love action, adventure, and intrigue supported by incredible research will devour this novel.

The Financial Times (UK)

An exciting fictional debut ... a well-informed and enlightened modern book that has a properly skeptical view of imperialist propaganda. I do not remember when I enjoyed a novel more than this.

Evening Standard (UK)

...fresh and original with many surprises in store ... history subtly and intelligently entwines itself around a cracking good plot.

The Independent (UK)

Lots of fast-moving drama, but [also] a carefully researched setting in early Victorian India ... Carter gives us delicious descriptions ... It's a great read, white tigers and all.

The Guardian (UK)

[An] excellent first novel ... An inspired mix of sensation novel and odd-couple road novel, The Strangler Vine has a smirking sense of the absurdity of the whole colonial project.

The Sunday Times (UK)

Carter's twisting, devious narrative is enhanced by her vigorous prose and her convincing delineation of her chief characters, whose further adventures, already announced, can be keenly anticipated.

The Literary Review (UK)

The story is exciting, the mystery real and its setting vividly evoked…I am already looking forward to the next one.

The Times (UK)

The Strangler Vine is a considerable achievement, which left me waiting impatiently for a promised sequel.

Metro (UK)

Intelligent, extensively researched and packed with period detail, The Strangler Vine evokes both the attitudes of the British colonials and the India of the period.

The Spectator (UK)

A meticulously researched historical novel with a subversive and startling sting in its tail.

Author Blurb Susan Elia MacNeal, New York Times-bestselling author of the Maggie Hope series
With gorgeous historical detail and deft characterization, Carter creates a rip-roaring detective romp - while also casting a gimlet eye on the effects of British imperialism and colonization of India.

Author Blurb Charles Palliser, international bestselling author of The Quincunx
This is a gripping story of conspiracy and betrayal set in an early Victorian India that is rendered with complete conviction. And as a historian, the author offers a thought-provoking re-interpretation of the Thuggee story.

Author Blurb William Dalrymple, author of White Mugals: Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India
A splendid romp and just the job for a cold winter's evening in front of a blazing fire.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Goddess Kali

In The Strangler Vine, a nomadic tribe of Indian bandits, known to history as Thugs, first charm and then strangle fellow travelers in the name of the Hindu goddess Kali. The appropriation of Kali by the Thuggee to justify their murders is the subject of some ongoing historical debate. While Kali is a Hindu goddess, it has been argued that a large number of Thugs were in fact Muslim. Doubts have further been raised about the existence of the Thuggee cult at all, as its existence was only recorded by British imperialists who may have had a vested interest in creating a feared band of murderers. A more recent and well-reviewed consideration of the evidence can be found in Thug: The True Story of India's Murderous Cult by Mike Dash.

Kali, ...

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