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A Singular Hostage
By Thalassa Ali

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A Singular Hostage
By Thalassa Ali
F. A. Thorpe - Charnwood Large Print Edition, (2003)
ISBN: 07089-9409-1
Genre: Historical (Victorian) Fiction

Other Editions: Standard Print - Hardcover | Standard Print - Paperback

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - March 26, 2003

Mariana Givens was sent to India with the expressed purpose of 'getting' a husband. This was a common occurrence in Victorian England. It was a respectable way for girls to get a husband. Often these girls, including Mariana, have a slight flaw that is making it difficult for them to get a husband in England. Or they hope to better their lot by marrying above their 'station'. In both cases, the odds of the Misses getting a Mister are greatly increased due to the lack of single English women in India throughout the Victorian era. Mariana's flaw is bigger and more damaging to her cause than most of the flaws of her competitors - Mariana has a decided tendency to be a bit tom-boyish and tactless. Both quality that are decidedly unladylike.

Mariana was twenty-years old in 1838, when she arrived in India, and was rapidly approaching an age when the title spinster would be amended to her name. As her year in India begins to draw to a close, she seems no closer to getting married than she did when she first arrived. Less concerned about this predicament than another girl might have been, Mariana spends her time pursuing activities such as learning Urdu (a form of Hindustani) or sneaking around without a chaperon to see the marvelous sights that were often deemed too unladylike for a lady to view.

Strong-willed and curious, Mariana journeys into the Punjab with the Governor-Generals retinue, working as a 'lady' translator. On her journey she meets a couple of soldiers that seem to be husband material - and better yet, they seem to think that she is wifely material. However, her life and plans are turned upside down when she is handed Saboor, the eighteen year old son of Shaikh Waliullah Karakoyia.

Saboor and his mother, Mumtaz Bano, had been held as hostages by the Maharajah Ranjit Singh as a means of controlling Saboor's grandfather who served as the Rajah's courier. Unfortunately, Saboor's mother was killed by Saat Kaur, one of the Rajah's queens. His mother was poisoned, afer she drank a glass of milk intended for Saboor. After his mother's death, Saboor was ill treated by the women of the harem, and by the time he comes to fall into Mariana's arms he is ill and his life hangs in the balance. Mariana and Saboor are to have a major impact on each other's lives, and by extension, they both exert a major influence on the life of Hassan Sahib, Saboor's father.

Fearing that the Rajah will take Saboor back, Mariana hides him, with the help of her servants and language teacher, Munshi Sahib. In the process she becomes embroiled in deep political matters surrounding the English plans to invade Afghanistan and their need for a treaty with the Rajah. She also discovers that it had been foretold, by a mystic, that she was destined to save Saboor.

This is a fast paced, riveting adventure tale. Mariana is a multi-faceted character who doesn't always do wisest thing - which only serves to get her deeper and deeper into trouble - on many different levels. Mariana is not your run of the mill Victorian heroine, and Jane Austen would most likely cross the street to avoid having to talk to Miss Mariana. Yet it is the very characteristics that make Mariana such an unusual Victorian Heroine that makes her such an intriguing character, and it is her unique characteristics that enable her to survive the dangerous situations that she ends up in.

In A Singular Hostage, Thalassa Ali transports you back to Victorian India and shows you the cultural gulfs that existed between the Indian's and the English interlopers. This book also highlights the difference in how the various cultures regarded women, and how misunderstandings regarding these aptitudes could, and often did, have tragic results. Ali's writing is vibrant and well-paced. This story is filled with numerous plot twists and intimate details that help to transport the reader to the region. This is the first novel that Ali has written, and the story doesn't quite untangle all the knots that Mariana knotted. Fortunatley, the sequel to A Singular Hostage, in large print, has been released. It is entitled, A Beggar at the Gate and it nicely ties up all the loose ends left hanging at the end of A Singular Hostage.

A Singular Hostage can be purchased directly from Ulverscroft, the parent company of F. A. Thorpe - Charnwood. You can also buy this book by contacting Ulverscroft via email at:

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