The Star of India
I am a sucker for the childhood-friends-falling-in-love plotline. I like the grounding that it gives to a romantic relationship; you know the love found isn’t entirely based on a physical, hormonal reaction, but rather on a friendship, a relationship and a history that goes back years. And when that friendship changes because of a new physical, hormonal awareness, I like the extra depth it brings to the friendship. Such is the case with David and Emily.
Thirteen year old David Huntington, son of the Earl of Darlington and an Indian princess, was born in India and came to England with his father when his mother died. His best friend is eight year old Lady Emily Kenton, daughter of the neighboring Duke of Wayland. When his father’s health declines and brings a longing for India, they return, but not before David gives his mother’s ring to Emily with the promise that the ring will protect her and he will always stand her friend. This action is mirrored by the earl’s act of leaving into the duke’s safekeeping the fabled Star of India, a fabulous sapphire that was a gift from the earl’s wife, who took it from her family’s Temple of Shiva.
Fourteen years later, David is ready to return to England to take up his duties as the Earl of Darlington. Widowed, he brings with him his nine year old daughter, Anjali, and a promise made to his grandmother to find the Star of India and return it to its rightful place, as she believes its removal from the temple has cursed it.
The intervening years have been difficult for Emily. Her father and brother have died, though not before said brother gambled away most of the estate. Her mother is an invalid, and a second brother had been fighting on the Peninsula so it fell to Emily to salvage what she could and care for the estate. She is proud of the way she managed to get through all those years, but now that her brother, the new duke, is home from the wars and married to a wealthy woman, she is ready for some fun and ready to fall in love. But she has one more task to accomplish for the sake of her family.
Before his death, her ne’er-do-well brother sold the Star of India twice; once in fact and once as a paste imitation. The owner of the imitation is very publicly donating the gem to a museum and Emily knows it will not pass the appraisal inspection. To save her family’s honor, she has sold her own jewels to finance the making of an authentic copy and hopes to find a way to exchange it for the paste jewel.
But all this is simply the framework for David and Emily’s story. They meet again at a ball in a very sweet reunion, both obviously happy to see each other but both a bit tongue-tied. They dance and though they can barely speak a word, they cannot take their eyes off each other. Each is so familiar and yet so different and so fascinating in their grown-up bodies. It takes but a few meetings for them to be back on their best friend footing and to know that there is now an added dimension to that friendship – a dimension made clearer with every look, every touch, every kiss. McCabe does an especially good job of taking us along these little steps toward intimacy and love in a way that is believable and – I’m sorry, I must say it again – very sweet.
It is ironic then, that my main complaint is that this story is almost too sweet. Things between Emily and David progress almost too smoothly leaving very little in the way of conflict or obstacles to their Happily Ever After. The Star of India is set up as our couple’s external conflict, and while the back story is long and complicated (as you can tell from the synopsis) it doesn’t wind up being much of a conflict at all. David and Emily move from Point A to Point B to Point C with very little stumbling along the way and while they are an engaging couple, the plot is not particularly compelling.
This problem, along with Emily’s tendencies toward martyrdom for the sake of her family and the Star, keeps this from being an unqualified recommendation. However, I did enjoy David and Emily’s relationship very much and that transition from friends-to-lovers is so well done that I do recommend this book on that basis.