I’ve often been a fan of historical fiction, but so far the titles I read under this genre were pretty gnarly and gruesome. Most of the books that I’ve read had all been based on the World War II and mainly involved either the Nazis or the Japanese. Both who were pretty sick when it came to their prisoners-of-war (POW) treatment.
But The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan was different. It was still historical fiction, but minus the blood and gore of war. It was more of a tale of a young boy king whose royal dad was the Lion of the Punjab and ruled with a big heart despite his status, as well as the many hands that changed when they were given the Kohinoor diamond.
Historical fiction is always a fun and exciting prospect, but only when it doesn’t involve mind-numbing bloodlust and gut-wrenching mass murdering.
Summary from Goodreads:
From the internationally bestselling author of The Twentieth Wife, a novel based on the tumultuous history of a legendary 186-carat diamond—originating in India—and the men and women who possessed it.
As empires rose and fell and mighty kings jostled for power, its glittering radiance never dimmed. It is the “Mountain of Light”—the Kohinoor diamond—and its facets reflect a sweeping story of love, adventure, conquest, and betrayal. Its origins are the stuff of myth, but for centuries this spectacular gem changes hands from one ruler to another in India, Persia, and Afghanistan. In 1850, the ancient stone is sent halfway around the world where it will play a pivotal role in the intertwined destinies of a boy-king of India and a young queen of England—a queen who claims the Mountain of Light and India itself for her own burgeoning empire, the most brilliant jewels in her imperial crown.
The Mountain of Light is a magnificent story of loss and recovery, sweeping change and enduring truth, wrapped around the glowing heart of one of the world’s most famous diamonds.
The early chapters of the book began at a snail’s pace. The wrestling match between Shah Shuja, the deposed king of Afghanistan, and his adopted brother, Ibrahim Khan, led the beginning of what would eventually become the tale and travels of a highly sought-after diamond. Throughout the book, you will learn that the diamond had changed many royal hands, from those who were gifted the diamond as part of a treaty to those who had the diamond robbed of them (but in a diplomatic manner).
I had initially thought this was just another story, that somehow I would finish the book with the idea that Maharajah Ranjit Singh was the most powerful ruler ever, but because of the first introductory chapter, I had wondered, “How does the British come into the picture?“
Only upon reaching the last chapter of the book had I learnt that each chapter had documented a new owner of the country, from Maharajah Ranjit Singh himself to the East India Company (EIC), their Governor-Generals, and their British ruling over India itself. It was truly a well-written history that was properly hidden within the folds of a story. Each chapter had told the story or the tale of each character’s life and his generation. It started with Shah Shuja and his wife, Wafa Begam, who were held captive by the Maharajah of Punjab, Ranjit Singh. He had rescued Shah Shuja from the prison in Afghanistan after the latter was removed from the Afghan throne, on the condition that Shah Shuja and his wife give up the Kohinoor diamond in return for the Maharajah’s generosity.
The story then moved on to chart the lives of Maharajah Ranjit Singh and his young wife, Maharani Jindan Kaur. The Maharani had given birth to a son, who would then be the young boy king of the Punjab, Maharajah Dalip Singh. The young boy had struck up an unexpected friendship with Resident of India, Henry Lawrence.
Unfortunately for the young king, by the time he ascended the throne, the EIC had taken over and Henry Lawrence was no longer the boy’s acting guardian. Instead of royalty ruling for Punjab, it was the Governor-General who oversaw most of the operations, including the handing over of the Kohinoor diamond to the British monarchy.
As I raced against time to finish the book (yes, I was 13 books behind in my 2016 Gooreads Reading Challenge of finishing 50 books), only towards the end of the book that I learnt of the journey of the Kohinoor diamond; that it had begun from page one with being in Shah Shuja’s possession, before it called Maharajah Ranjit Singh its new owner, and then the entire EIC took over, and finally, it ended up with the Queen of England. Also, the end of the book marked the end of the reign of the boy king, Maharajah Dalip Singh.
Apparently, the Kohinoor diamond is real. After doing some research online, I found that the diamond had indeed changed many hands, and begun much earlier and way before the reign of Shah Shuja. In present day, the Kohinoor diamond sits with the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. I should really make a trip there one day just to see it.