The dread question comes at the oddest moments: You’re going about your business, about to sip your cappuccino, or riding in an elevator, believing you are relatively safe, and then, wham: What’s your novel about?
Authors hate this. You have to give a glimpse of your book in a sentence or two. Agony. Don’t make me do this right this second. Let me warm up a bit.
A Thousand Perfect Things, just out, is a historical fantasy set in an alternate 19th century England and India. It’s an adventure story that takes place in 1857 against a background of a colonial uprising in India. My major character, Tori Harding, is a young woman who, because of her gender, is denied entrance into the rarified circles of science–though she learned her beloved botany at the knee of her famous grandfather, Sir Charles Littlewood. When Sir Charles dies in disgrace, Tori picks up his secret hope to find a legendary magical golden lotus. She pursues this quest on a great journey to an alternate India, where she enters the exotic heart of a mystical continent. There she must fend off a ruthless colonial Raj, palace intrigues, shape changing magics, ancient ghosts . . . and revolution.
But way too long. Let’s boil it down.
This novel is about a Victorian woman in an exotic India of magic, whose quest is to find her destiny through forbidden powers.
That’s the gist of the plot. It’s what most people want to know when they ask, “What’s your story about?”
Rounding it out
But there are other layers to this story, and in a sense, this is what the story is really about, at least for me. The book traces themes of ambition, sexual repression, colonialism and the attainment of wisdom. It’s a love story. There’s an unconventional love triangle, tainted by racism and the question of–for an educated Victorian woman–male domination. Readers will follow Tori, but also Edmond, a conflicted captain of the Raj, Elizabeth, a spirited school teacher, Mahindra, a charismatic holy man, and a prince with a ghostly destiny. We will see love and death, betrayal and bravery, all played out with appearances by magical silver tigers, demons and ghosts.
It is, in the end, the story of a woman who seeks an ideal life but, set against a heart-of-darkness background, is given the chance to discover what she really wants.
I suppose that in creating Tori Harding, I wrote about deep things in myself. That’s usually the case in my work, and I suspect, that of most authors. Even if I’m writing about demon birds and fantastic oceanic bridges (oh yeah, there’s one of those, too) I’m looking into my own heart.
So what’s the story about? A Victorian woman on a quest for magic in an altered India.
Got it down to twelve words! But I still hate the question.