Loot by Tania James came to me as an ARC from netgalley and the publishers. I thank all the publishers who have sent me copies this year – there have been a lot of them and I’ve mostly enjoyed them. This is no exception, but I’m ahead of myself – it will be published on 24 January, and I suggest you put it on your wishlist now!
by Tania James
An epic tale of plundered treasure, savage empire, lasting love and a young man’s dream to make his mark on the world.
Meet Abbas. Woodcarver, toy maker, dreamer. Abbas is seventeen when he is whisked away to Tipu Sultan’s glorious palace in Mysore. Apprenticed to the legendary clockmaker Monsieur Du Leze, he is ordered to create an ingenious musical tiger to delight Tipu’s sons.
In the eccentric Du Leze, Abbas finds an unexpected friend who encourages his skill and hunger for learning, and through whom he also meets the unforgettable Jehanne, who has questions and ambitions of her own.
But when British soldiers attack and loot Mysore, Abbas’s world is turned upside down and his prized tiger is shipped off to a country estate in England. In order to carve out his place in the world, he must follow.
A hero’s quest, a love story, an exuberant heist novel that traces the bloody legacy of colonialism across the world, Loot is a dazzling, wildly inventive and irresistible feat of storytelling from a writer at the height of her powers.
It’s a historical adventure with a sort of love interest in places, but mostly, how two displaced people come together and use their skills to make a living.
The style risked putting me off, as I was wholly engaged in Abbas’s world and his troubles, then we seemed to leave him to his own devices and make our way on a ship. Ships at that time were not pleasant places. We have a different narrator, who seems to be suffering from scurvy. I didn’t realise that scurvy was so bad. Another thing I’ve learnt from books this year.
Then we meet up with someone else, now in France, but she has a plan, and once she meets Abbas again, the plan expands into something quite bizarre.
By this time I had settled in to the scenarios that were linked together very skillfully, and no longer irked by the gaps. It’s a series of vignettes, I suppose, following the lives of several people that are interlinked. And I felt it worked, and worked well. the period matched what I’ve read in other books, the troubles the displaced people encounter, especially with the local gentry, are familiar enough even or especially in this age. Nothing much has changed, it seems.
But at the back of my mind throughout, I was bothered by the tiger. The wondrous tiger made by Du Leze and Abbas. I was sure I had seen it. And the only place I would have seen it would be in a London Museum – maybe the British, but no, I realised by the end, it is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Yet the author never mentioned that, despite her ‘research’ in London, Rouen and India as she says in her afterword. I’m so glad the Tippu Sultan’s tiger is safe and well, still.