Drusilla Delaney, the daughter of an impoverished minister, becomes fascinated with the wealthy Framling family–especially with the son and daughter, the mysterious Fabian, and the beautiful, impetuous Lavinia. Through them, she finds herself the unlikely heir to an extraordinary bejeweled fan made of peacock feathers. But though priceless and dazzling to behold, the fan bears a curse that promises ill fortune–and even death–to whoever possesses it….
Heat Level: 1 (clean)
Victorian Era – Romantic Suspense
Reviewer Rating:4.5 stars
Review by Caz
I read a lot of novels by Victoria Holt when I was in my twenties, so when I saw that Sourcebooks was reissuing The India Fan, I was eager to discover how it would hold up twenty-five years after its original publication.
I am extremely happy to report that the answer is “very well indeed”.
This isn’t one of the titles I’d already read, so all I had to go on was the synopsis, although I am familiar enough with Holt’s other books to know that she wrote what are often termed “Gothic” novels, in which the independent, spirited heroine is somehow endangered; the location is often exotic (which in terms of the genre can include places such as Scotland and Cornwall!); and the atmosphere is full of tension. The India Fan has all those things in spades (and more) and yet it has a different feel to the others of her books I’ve read.
Drusilla Delaney is the daughter of the rector in the parish which includes the grand Framlings, home of the local aristocratic family. It seems from an early age that Drusilla’s fate is to be bound up with its inhabitants – the haughty Lady Harriet and her two very spoiled, bratty children, Fabian and Lavinia. Drusilla is frequently summoned to the house as a playmate for Lavinia, and initially, they don’t like each other much. It’s while they are children that Drusilla comes across the stunning peacock-feather fan that is in the possession of an elderly relative of Lady Harriet’s and comes to know the nature of its curse.
Lavinia, always a pretty child, grows into an incredibly beautiful woman, although unfortunately she does not develop a personality to match. Instead she is shallow and selfish, needing the admiration and adoration of all around her – especially the men – and after being discovered in flagrante delicto with one of the grooms, her mother decides to send her away to school. Knowing Drusilla to be an eminently sensible girl, Lady Harriet sends her with Lavinia with the tacit understanding that she is to keep Lavinia ‘out of trouble’.
In a story that spans over twenty years, it seems as though “keeping Lavinia out of trouble” is to become Drusilla’s mission in life as the girls move on to a French Finishing School and later, to India where they become caught up in the events of the Indian Mutiny of 1857.
Naturally, Lavinia is not a character one is supposed to like; she has no interest in anything that does not concern herself, and her drive to be desired by every man with whom she comes into contact leads eventually to tragedy. Given the overbearing nature of Lavinia’s personality, it would have been easy for the author to make Drusilla a downtrodden doormat of a character, but she isn’t. Her long experience of Lavinia enables her to maintain a relationship with her in which she (Drusilla) is able to assert herself and tell Lavinia exactly what she thinks of her – even if Lavinia doesn’t care and takes no notice whatsoever. And despite her excesses, Drusilla does care for Lavinia; and, in an odd way, the feeling is reciprocated.
The story is a complex one, featuring a number of different locations and a large cast of supporting characters. The pace in the earlier part of the book is fairly sedate, but the novel is a slow-burn; there is a lot to take in, but nothing is rushed, and it was an absolute joy to read something in which the author was able to take the time to set up her story and to develop her characters. I realise that some may find the slow pacing off-putting, but a little perseverance will pay off in the end as the reader is able to gain a greater insight into the relationships between the characters and their motivations.
The descriptions of the sights and sounds of India are very evocative, and the story of the days leading up to the Mutiny bristle with tension. There are certain (fictional) events that feel as though they have been somewhat glossed over, but I didn’t find that spoiled my enjoyment of the story overall.
Also gently simmering throughout the book has been Drusilla’s relationship with Fabian Framling. There were, I have to admit, rather too many mentions of the fact that he had “kidnapped” her as a child because he’d decided he wanted a baby to look after, but other than that, he turned out to be rather an attractive hero. Holt’s stories are told in the first person, and one of the things I found in the other books I’ve read of hers is that the hero is often a less well-defined character because the reader only sees him through the eyes of the heroine. I did feel that to be the case initially, but despite the singular viewpoint, Holt is able to show is that he has – fortunately -grown out of most of his “brattish” tendencies and become a strong and likeable man. Still prone to the occasional high-handedness, he has a good sense of humour and rather a roguish air; and the sense to value Drusilla’s strength and courage.
Fabian’s interest in Drusilla is clear – although she is wary of his motives and sceptical that he could ever be interested in someone as plain as she is. I really liked the fact that that there is no miraculous transformation at the end by judicious application of a new dress and some eyebrow-plucking; the things that make Drusilla attractive are her intelligence, her wit and her common sense, things which eventually win around not only the man she loves, but his domineering mother as well!
All in all, I found this to be an absolutely engrossing read. The story-telling is excellent and I found the historical background fascinating. If you enjoy well-developed and complex stories peopled with interesting characters, this book is highly recommended.
With thanks to Sourcebooks and NetGalley for the review copy.
I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too.