Beatrice, known as Bea, finds herself in India and living with her Aunt, Uncle and cousin. She has grown up living with her grannie in Scotland, after her parents had died in India, but as the latter got older she was no longer as able to care for Bea and the family packed Bea off to Aunt Constance. Unfortunately the year is 1857 and the city of Agra and the surrounding region are fast becoming the centre of a rebellion by the Indian troops. Bea and her relatives had just attended a performance of the Circus and but within days life has changed as the city of Agra finds itself under siege. Bea finds herself caught up in events and together with Jacques (an acrobat from the circus) and an Indian servant called Pingali manages to escape from the city and head for the hills, in an attempt to find her younger brother George. He had travelled to India with their parents and was sent to live with another aunt after their deaths. The dangers that this group face, both from the rebels and from army deserters brings them into huge danger and makes them very aware that you cannot judge people by their ethnicity or background. The epilogue at the end rounds off the story and we get an insight into how lives have changed over the three years since the rebellion.
Literature has long been fascinated by the Indian continent but although there are many adult novels written about the history and events, there are fewer written from a child’s point of view. Even those are often about a person travelling from India to the UK and the differences that they find. We can start with titles such as the “Secret Garden” but we are now seeing an increase in books that give us a much better perspective of the country’s history as well as allowing us to share in the lives of a huge range of people. Bea is a very strong and feisty character who did not want to travel to India, but is determined to be re-united with her brother whatever it takes. She is the total antithesis of a Victorian young lady, having been brought up in Scotland and allowed to have freedom of movement and thought. The strictures of life within the Raj are frustrating and you get the feel that the European women live in a constant form of social straitjacket. Life in Britain was itself full of social restrictions, but this was only amplified in the confined communities that they found themselves in as part of the Empire. We also get an insight into the total lack of cultural and religious understanding that the British had for the population that they were ruling; the rebellion was caused by the supposed use of pork and beef fat to coat rifle shells, which was insulting and against the beliefs of both Muslim and Hindu communities. It is to be hoped that the world has changed for the better, but I do wonder if there are still people with no empathy and understanding of those around them; however that is a question that should be a large area of discussion within schools. Above all this is a thrilling adventure story that pits the central characters against all kinds of dangers, but they come together and even take on board the saying “All for one, and one for all” from the “Three Musketeers”. It is a story that is very exciting but which will also make you think about what happened and why.
Robin Scott-Elliot has been a sports journalist for 25 years with the BBC, ITV, Sunday
Times, Independent and the ‘i’, covering every sport you can think of and a few you
probably can’t. In 2012 he covered the London Paralympics as the Independent’s
Paralympic Correspondent. He threw that all away to move home to Scotland and
write. He lives on the west coast with his wife and two children. His first book for
children, The Tzar’s Curious Runaways, was published in 2019.