Two years ago, sixteen-year-old English girl Sophie survived the sinking of the Titanic, but her parents did not. Still haunted by that tragedy, she's sent off to India, to stay with distant cousins--Tom, a zoologist working at the Indian Museum, Jean, his novelist wife, and their young daughter, Alex. Sophie has prepared herself for "India" by reading (both non-fiction and Kipling), but nothing can prepare her for what happens once she arrives.
Tragedy and culture-shock combine to wake in Sophie a gift of sorts--her perceptions of both past and future become strangely sharpened. And her visions will make her a player in the tail end of Kipling's Great Game--the game of intrigue, political machinations, and spying in which European powers, and now Indian nationalists, shape the future of the country. World War I is underway in Europe, and plots are afoot in India that may well destroy both Sophie's new family and British control of the sub-continent.
I approach fiction about India, especially fiction involving young English girls with supernatural abilities, with a certain amount of caution, looking carefully for stereotypes, romanticization, and neo-colonial baggage. Happily, Sophie, In Shadow did a good job of not bothering me! In large part this is because we stick closely to Sophie's point of view--she is aware that she has a lot of learning to do, and is willing to question the social norms of the very tail end of the British raj. It is still very much a European point of view, but the reader can't reasonably expect more from this particular character's story.
There was much I enjoyed--I am a huge fan of Kipling's Kim, so it was great to see Sophie becoming involved in the last years of the Great Game, including a bit where a German agent is pursued through the mountains! And I am also a fan of being educated through historical fiction--before reading this book, I had not particular thoughts on what was happening in India during WW I. And Sophie herself, and her cousins, are interesting characters with believable motivations, interests, and aspirations. Added interest came from a secondary character, a friend of Jean's who was a real person--Alexandra David-Néel , a French-Belgian spiritualist, anarchist, Buddhist, writer, and explorer. I may well have to seek out more about her!
The paranormal elements of the story are enough to add fantastic zest, but are not so much so as to make Sophie a special snowflake saving India (thank goodness!). Sophie's visions do not take over the book--for the most part, it reads as historical fiction--so don't expect this to be full-blown paranormal fantasy.
In short, Sophie, in Shadow is historical fantasy that both educates and entertains, that I particularly recommend to fans of Kim!
(note: Jean and Tom and Alexandra were the central characters in Kernaghan's earlier book, Wild Talent, but it is not at all necessary to have read that first).
disclaimer: review copy received from the author