An historical novel set in the eighteenth century: a hero’s quest, a love story, the story of a young artist coming of age, and an exuberant heist adventure that traces the bloody legacy of colonialism across two continents and fifty years.
James moves within the historical record while freely exploiting its considerable gaps and silences ... At 300 pages, this isn’t a particularly long novel, but James is a master miniaturist who can create the illusion of a saga in a chapter. And she’s not afraid to radically reset the novel’s place and tone. Her pages feel as full as a 19th-century bildungsroman, with collapsing kingdoms, sailing ships and elaborate schemes. Her plot is crisscrossed with coincidences and near misses, acts of great villainy and stunning kindness, and, of course, a long-simmering romance that’s doomed — until it isn’t! ... Abbas doesn’t hear the household servant who insists that it’s 'never too late to reinvent yourself,' but he knows that’s true better than anyone else in this captivating story. He just wants to create something that will outlast its creator. James surely has.
...[a] dazzling, richly embroidered historical novel ... James’ mastery of the tools and vocabulary of woodworking is impressive, but it is her meticulous development of the respectful relationship between teacher and apprentice that lifts her story to another level ... James has pulled off something special in this ingeniously constructed novel. By creating characters who steadfastly refuse to become plunder themselves, she has produced an inspiring work of beauty sure to leave its mark on readers.
...a rich, sprawling, picaresque ... When Abbas and Jehanne finally reconnect, their shared mission of rescuing and restoring Tipu’s tiger launches them on a farcical escapade that sparkles with sharp wit and subtle longing. From the tyrannical opulence of Tipu’s palace to the fading glory of a British country manor, James weaves a lustrous tale of intrigue and survival, cunning and romance.