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REVIEW: India Fan by Victoria Holt

Drusilla Delaney, daughter of an English Victorian vicar has grown up near and with the aristocratic Framling children – handsome Fabian and spoilt Lavinia. While she isn’t in contact with Fabian as much until they are adults, she has been tutored along side and then sent off to boarding school with nearly out-of-control Lavinia, since Lavinia’s mother, Lady Framling, feels Drusilla is a good influence on her headstrong daughter. But even Drusilla’s level headedness can’t keep Lavinia from getting into trouble and only quick thinking and a raft of lies keep the knowledge of Lavinia’s unwed pregnancy from her mother. With the baby girl safely in the hands of Drusilla’s old nurse Polly and Polly’s sister, the two young women return home. Sent off for her London Season, Lavinia’s beauty snags the very man with whom Drusilla once thought to make a comfortable match.

The Framlings have always served in the East India Company and it is to India that Fabian and eventually Lavinia and her husband go. A few years later, Lady Framling enlists Drusilla to accompany an English governess whom she has recently hired for her grandchildren still in India. Mustn’t have the English children brought up by the native ayah, you see. The two women arrive to discover a fascinating land of different cultures and sensibilities which is also at a flash point. Discontent is rift and only needs a spark to set the whole land ablaze. When the firestorm erupts, will the Europeans an be able to survive the rage about to engulf them? And if they do, is there a future for Drusilla which she could hardly dare dream to come true?

Dear Readers,

I doubt many long time romance readers have not at least heard of the name Victoria Holt and her many famous “gothic” style books. When I saw that this book was being re released, it dawned on me that while I’ve read scads of her novels under her pen names of Jean Plaidy and Philippa Carr, I had never read a Holt book. Determined to remedy that, I jumped at the opportunity to try this famous one. While I enjoyed it overall, there are some things about it that might frustrate modern romance readers at the same time as they delight gothic lovers.

india fan victoria holtThe writing is good, the characters well drawn, and the atmosphere is edgy and sinister when called for. There are mysteries, strange characters, gloomy wings of the Framling great house, a cursed fan made of peacock feathers, batty relatives, plus menacing villains and situations before the romantic wrap up. It also covers a long amount of time, from the young girlhood to adulthood of Drusilla, shows very little sign of any romance until rather late in the book and has a tendency to overdo the mustachio twirling evil of the villain and snobbery of the Framling women. And it’s told in first person which I know lots of people don’t care for.

I love that Drusilla might be the typical innocent heroine but is never subservient to the Framlings even as a child which is the opposite of the archetype “gothic” style heroine. She tells it like it is and takes no guff from any of them. But then Fabian is the same way which serves as one of the signs that “he’s The One” since there isn’t much courtship going on here. During the unease before the Sepoy Mutiny, he relies on Drusilla’s common sense and tells her not to be an idiot about things – which is a refreshing change from a silent, overbearing type hero. Then repeats this sentiment after he gets home and has to remind Drusilla of the feelings they felt then and that he still feels them and is pretty damn sure she does too. It’s kind of an “Snap out of it! We still love each other!” moment.

Is it typical gothic? There are hints and foreshadowing which sometimes take a while to play out or be told such as the home where Lavinia waits out her unwanted pregnancy. This part kind of fizzled out for me. Broad hints were made about the evil feel of that home but then nothing happened while they were there. The blackmail section was a damp squib too as was the Suez crossing bit. Honestly I wasn’t sure where that was going for a while and discovering only later the danger Drusilla had been in was a let down. There is a batty old broad tucked away who gets loose every now and then though the whole ‘evil fan’ didn’t quite gel for me until the end when its horrifying cousin did a number in India. Now that bit did surprise me just a tad but it made the Sepoy Mutiny come alive as hiding out for weeks on end simply didn’t do. In defense of this part of the plot, it would be hard to maintain much semblance of tension over the length of time that Drusilla hides with so little happening to the characters in question. I did like that Drusilla is a self-saving type of heroine with little need for Fabian to “ride to her rescue.”

One thing that was fascinating to me is how the Framlings are like a drug to Drusilla – at one point she even says she “comes alive” when around them. And she does gain a great deal out of the relationship – a better education and chance to travel even if she does have to clean up Lavinia’s messes so many times. Poor Lavinia – her chickens do come home to roost. As I said, I’m slightly surprised at what a gruesome end Holt brings her to but on the other hand, it’s not as if she didn’t have warning and a chance to escape. Lavinia could only evade her mistakes but so many times. I think Drusilla’s shock is well portrayed.

It’s interesting to see the various British reactions to what is going on and to what eventually occurs in India. They’re all still “Yeah for England!” but some at least have an inkling that things might go wrong and aren’t shocked when it does. Some even understand the reasons why and realize the need for a change in government. Is this due to book being written in late 1980s? I wonder how it might have been different had the book come out earlier. I liked the comparison/contrast of pretty Lavina hiding the depths of her real personality vs colorful India seething with revolt.

The romance payoff is long in coming. There are hints but you kind of have to be aware of the ultimate pairings to catch them as at first one man seems a good match then there is the possibility of another. Neither is Drusilla’s real true love but the book allows time for this to become abundantly clear and for it to be obvious that she would be settling for either of them though she could have probably had acceptable marriages with either. As the tension mounts in India it becomes plain who her match is going to be. I found it funny that he’s so at ease with her, and respects her enough, that he can be brutally honest with her, especially about the Suez near miss. Still I miss having his point of view or even having him “onstage” for vast amounts of the book.

Just as with Drusilla, I love that neither Polly nor Eff bows down to the Framlings thus avoiding the “stupid servant” stereotype. Polly and Eff are delightful and so much of their personalities are laid out with the phrases Holt puts in their mouths. Drusilla’s father is the “absent minded vicar” type and I do wish more had been done with his character but it is this very vagueness that serves as the springboard for Drusilla’s association with the Framlings.

Since it’s a first person narrative, if Drusilla doesn’t work for you, I think the whole book will fail. Luckily I like her. She’s honest about herself though slightly off about others as Fabian almost gleefully tells her. And she has had some experience in life from her travels and escapades with Lavinia. Still she’s a touch naive before reaching India and too willing to almost give up on love when she gets back. But since the book is more her life story and a modern telling of a gothic rather than a typical romance, it’s still an enjoyable book to me. B

~Jayne

 

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

17 Comments

  1. carmen webster buxton
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 09:04:55

    OMG! Victoria Holt and Phillipa Carr and Jean Plaidy were all the same person? How did I not know this? My god, that woman was a writing machine! I thought Victoria Holt was prolific, but when you add them up– yikes!

    I don’t think I ever read any Phillipa Carr books, but overall, I probably liked the Victoria Holt ones better than the ones she did as Jean Plaidy, but I think that might be at least partly because the characters in her historical novels were more constrained by reality. My favorite Victoria Holt was Mistress of Mellyn partly because I loved the setting in Cornwall.

    I do like books set in India, though, especially if they’re sympathetic to the Indian side of the Raj, so maybe I’ll give this one a try.

    p.s. In light of the previous post about glomming, I wonder what a true glommer does when a favorite writer publishes under a pseudonym? Does the glom encompass all the names under which a writer publishes?

  2. Evangeline
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 10:59:58

    Oh how I love this book! I think I’ve read it over twenty times because Drusilla is such a great character. I’m so stoked that Sourcebooks is reprinting Holt titles (and Open Road the Carr “Daughters of England” series) even though I keep my entire gothic romance collection in pristine condition. ^^

    ETA: Victoria Holt is the Queen of Gothic Romance because the menace is never about danger or a dark and mysterious hero or shady servants–it’s always a catalyst for the heroine’s change and growth. Most Holt imitators never figured this out and glutted the market with watered down cliches.

  3. Little Red
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 11:16:04

    My high school library had a rather large collection of the Holt novels in hardcover. I remember reading through them all over the course of four years. I didn’t realize she had other pen names. I love books set in India, and while I’m sure I read it back in high school, I want to read it again.

  4. Heather Greye
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 11:25:57

    Oh my gosh! I think I read this when it was excerpted in my grandma’s Good Housekeeping. Sent teenaged me on a Victoria Holt glom. Good memories. :)

  5. Jayne
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 12:57:29

    @carmen webster buxton: There was another pen name she used as well so she really was a writing machine! The Jean Plaidy reality novels didn’t bother me as much since I wasn’t looking for romance at the time but I probably wouldn’t ever reread them now.

    I wouldn’t say that the book is totally sympathetic to the Indian side of the issue but it does go into what some of their grievances were and has Fabian and another character at least aware of these grievances.

  6. Lizzy
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 12:59:20

    Yowza! This was the first romance I read! Love that it’s here all these years later. Thanks!

  7. Jayne
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 13:01:49

    @Evangeline: I really, really enjoyed Drusilla because she never backs down and, in the moment of crisis, is responsible for saving herself and the children. Definitely not a timid creature.

  8. Caz
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 13:02:36

    I read lots of JP and VH in my teens and twenties and still have loads of old paperbacks sitting around on my shelves. But this was one I hadn’t read until now, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m not a fan of first person narration as a rule, but Holt makes it work. I hope this re-issue means there are more on the way :)

  9. Jayne
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 13:03:32

    @Heather Greye: “Good Housekeeping” used to have a lot of good novels excerpted, didn’t they? Do they still do this?

  10. Sunita
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 14:23:53

    Great review, Jayne! I don’t think I’ve read this one even though I read a lot of earlier Holts (one of my first romances was Mistress of Mellyn. I’m definitely giving it a shot.

  11. Robin L Rotham
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 14:53:28

    I devoured all of Victoria Holt’s novels way back when I was a teen and reread several of them dozens of times. My favorites were The Shivering Sands, Mistress of Mellyn and Lord of the Far Island. Sadly, I don’t even remember India Fan, though I know I read it, so I doubt I considered it one of her best.

  12. Evangeline
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 15:25:07

    @Jayne: Off the top of my head only a few Holt heroines were passive and reactive. The most progressive and dominant heroine Holt ever wrote has to be Kerensa in The Legend of the Seventh Virgin; the most teeth-gnashingly passive: a tie between Susanna in Secret for a Nightingale and Jane in The House of a Thousand Lanterns.

  13. Christine
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 16:10:54

    I read a ton of Holt/Carr/Plaidy books back in my teen years. The Landower Legacy was always a favorite as well as a number of the Carr series. Among her worst was “Demon Lover” where the hero- and I use the term loosely- drugs and rapes the heroine. Literally, not a forced seduction he roofies her (or the 19th century equivalent). Some of her Carr books had rapist heroes too.

  14. Keishon
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 18:23:57

    Mention Holt and here I come running…..

    My mother introduced me to her in high school. I read a bunch of them back to back. Will they hold up over time? Some will, some won’t. I have fond memories of her books though. My absolute favorite is The House of a Thousand Lanterns because it was first. The one I reread the most is The Bride of Pendoric.

  15. Susan
    Apr 04, 2013 @ 21:11:19

    I read almost all of the Holt/Plaidy/Carr books when I was young. At some point, I did realize that they were all the same person because sometimes the copyright pages listed her “real” name: Eleanor Hibbert. (She wrote books under other names, but these three were the only ones I read.)

    I have to admit that India Fan was one of my favorites, mostly because of the setting. (For India/Mutiny books, tho, my all-time favorite is Valerie Fitzgerald’s Zemindar. I really wish that would be released as an ebook to spare my ancient book club hardback from all those re-readings!)

    Jayne, you mention the paucity of the romantic element in this book, but I think that’s true not only for a lot of Holt’s books, but a lot of the historical romances of this era. Many were more focused on the sweeping historical theme than the romance element. HEAs weren’t a given, and they were often bittersweet. Thinking back on the Holt/Carr books, it often wasn’t clear who the heroine would end up with. Sometimes, she ended up with the dashing hero, other times she ended up with the steady beta type, with a small sense that she’d settled for second best. The Carr books struck me as particularly conflicted–at the time I remember thinking that every other one ended on a somewhat sad note (but I’d have to reread them to see if that was really true).

  16. Meriam
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 15:22:25

    Whoa – blast from the past! This was one of the first adult novels I ever read. It was in a condensed Reader’s Digest volume and, god, I loved it. Obviously, I then went on to read all the other Victoria Holt novels I could find in my library, though Demon Lover – as mentioned above – took me aback. Even as a young teen enthralled to some pretty hokey romance tropes, I couldn’t get past the “hero” basically raping the heroine repeatedly. That one remains a headscratcher.

  17. carmen webster buxton
    Apr 08, 2013 @ 16:50:09

    If any Victoria Holt fans are just finding this review, as of today (Apr. 8, 2013), MARY, QUEEN OF FRANCE by Jean Plaidy (who I know know is also Victoria Holt!) is now $3.99 in the US Kindle store. Most of hers are $9.99 and up.

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