The Palace of Lost Dreams by Charlotte Betts - book review: Gripping, atmospheric and utterly enchanting…

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A crumbling palace set amidst the magic, majesty and mystery of 18th century India takes centre stage in a sumptuous novel from Charlotte Betts.

A former fashion and interior designer turned award-winning novelist, Betts has stolen the hearts of readers with sweeping and atmospheric romances like The Chateau on the Lake and The Apothecary’s Daughter.

In this gorgeous new novel, she transports us from Hampshire to Hyderabad for a thrilling adventure in the heat and political turmoil of India in 1798 as French and British forces become locked in a battle for the nation’s considerable riches.

Brimming with intrigue, social and cultural insights into life for women in late 18th century India, and all the dangers of this turbulent period, this is an epic story to savour on dark winter nights.

Bee Sinclair enjoyed a golden childhood in Hyderabad until her mother whisked her back to live in England under mysterious circumstances.

But in 1798, and now a grieving young widow facing financial destitution, she leaves Winchester to visit her brother, Ralph, who works for the British East India Company in Hyderabad.

On arrival, Bee discovers that Ralph has married Leela Begum, a beautiful Indian girl, and lives with her extended family and their retainers in the Jahanara Mahal, a dilapidated palace famous for the theft many years ago of the Rose of Golconda, a fabled and precious diamond.

As an outsider in an unfamiliar world, in which Leela and her cohorts live in the closed women’s quarters known as the zenana, Bee faces many challenges, not least trying to build a new and meaningful life after her recent heartbreak.

Meanwhile, French and British forces are locked in a battle over India’s riches, and matters are complicated further for Bee by the presence of the dashing Harry Wyndam, a friend from her childhood and now a maverick ex-soldier and suspected spy.

With the palace facing financial ruin, rebellion in the air, and feelings running high in the mahal, Bee is determined to come up with a plan that will save her new home… including finding the long-lost diamond.

The Palace of Lost Dreams sees Betts on top form in a novel rich in period detail, vibrant characters, and the sights, smells and sounds of this fascinating country.

Inspired by her own travels in India, Betts brings to life the luscious landscape with its decaying grandeur, earthy excitement and heat-soaked riot of colours, as well as its unforgettable assault on the senses.

Bee’s mission to save the beautiful Jahanara Mahal and solve the mystery of the missing diamond takes place at the heart of real history and deep into the political maelstrom of late 18th century India.

But there is also passion, romance and adventure in the pages of this exhilarating book as the tension mounts and a shadowy enemy lurks uncomfortably close to home.

Gripping, atmospheric and utterly enchanting…

(Piatkus, paperback, £8.99)