Abounding Might: Jaunting around colonial India

Abounding Might by Melissa McShane fantasy book reviewsAbounding Might by Melissa McShane fantasy book reviewsAbounding Might by Melissa McShane

In Abounding Might (2017), the third book in Melissa McShane’s EXTRAORDINARIES fantasy series about Regency-era women with diverse magical skills, the setting shifts to British-controlled India in 1813, and to a new main character, Lady Daphne St. Clair. Daphne, who was a minor character in the previous book, Wondering Sight, is gifted with the magical power of Bounding, teleporting instantly from place to place. It’s a highly useful skill to the British army, especially since she can Bound with anyone or anything that she is able to pick up off the ground (even momentarily), and Daphne is wildly excited to serve her country and have adventures.

But she’s also so sensitive to the sight of blood that it invariably causes her to black out and faint, and this weakness gets Daphne into deep trouble and disgrace right at the start of our story. She’s sent away from the war on the Peninsula to India, to shuttle a lord’s wife and children back and forth between England and India ― a mundane job far beneath her capabilities, and not one calculated to offer much adventure, or chance for Daphne to redeem herself with the British War Office.

Once in India, she initially finds that British society there stifles any attempt by her to experience the real India ― its people, language, culture and food ― as such things are simply Not Done by a respectable, single Englishwoman. But once she meets Captain Phineas Fletcher, a Discerner who has the ability to perceive others’ emotions by touching them, new opportunities open up to her. She’s given the chance to travel to an area in northern India where there’s increasing unrest, apparently because of some proselytizing missionaries. But as Fletcher, Daphne and their group investigate, they soon realize that the problem is much more complex and dangerous than it initially seemed.

How Daphne finds adventure, redemption and love in India, where she didn’t expect to find any of those things, is an exciting story. Daphne is an enjoyable heroine, not in the common mold: she’s short (barely five feet tall), plump, kindhearted, irrepressible, and utterly determined to make the best of herself and to experience life to its fullest. Her dedication is impressive: she diligently does strength exercises so she can pick up men twice her weight and teleport with them. She’s also dead set against marrying, at least anytime soon. It would take an unusual man indeed to have empathy with and accept her desire for travel and adventure, in this Regency era.

While both Fletcher and Daphne are interested in and sympathetic with the actual Indian people, they are still strangers in that culture. McShane walks a fine line in telling a story set in India during the period when the East India Company was the ruling power there, and from the British point of view. She comments, in the afterword, that for purposes of telling the story she wanted, she made the Company more benign than they were in actual history, rationalizing it on the basis that the existence of magical powers in her world, “distributed without regard for race or color, serves as an equalizer.” Still, some readers may object to this rather whitewashed portrayal of colonial era India.

Abounding Might thoughtfully explores the ramifications of these magical powers on society generally (for one thing, having a Bounder available makes travel between England and India immeasurably easier) and on the individuals who have those powers. Like Elinor in Burning Bright and Sophia in Wondering Sight (by the way, the similarity and rhyming in these titles is an amusing touch), Daphne pushes the boundaries of her talent, discovering new magical abilities … and it doesn’t always work out happily for her. But these women in this series are independent and determined to overcome obstacles. Romance may enter their lives, but it isn’t their main goal. It’s been a pleasure getting to know the characters in this series, and I look forward to the next installation.

Published October 3, 2017. Calcutta, 1813. Lady Daphne St. Clair, who as an Extraordinary Bounder is capable of transporting herself anywhere in the world with a thought, has longed to serve in the Army for years. But an unexpected weakness at the sight of blood makes her responsible for a good man’s death in battle. Unable to serve on the battlefield, Daphne is sent to India to be transportation for the Governor-General’s wife and children. In disgrace, Daphne fears she will never achieve the fame and glory she has worked so hard for. A chance encounter with Captain Phineas Fletcher, attached to the Honourable East India Company as a troubleshooter and investigator, leads to Daphne being given a new opportunity: help Captain Fletcher discover the truth behind a series of strange occurrences in the town of Madhyapatnam. Daphne is willing to do anything to restore her reputation, even something as small as Captain Fletcher’s investigation. As the days progress, her attachment to the members of the team grows deeper, as does her growing attraction to the captain. But as Daphne and Captain Fletcher dig deeper into the mystery, the truth turns out to be much more sinister than anyone imagined. Dark currents run deep beneath the pleasant surface of Madhyapatnam, and the echoes of a twenty-year-old story threaten not only the Company’s rule over the town, but the safety and well-being of everyone in it. Soon only Daphne’s talent and courage stand between Madhyapatnam and the evil that threatens to overwhelm it.

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TADIANA JONES, on our staff since July 2015, is an intellectual property lawyer with a BA in English. She inherited her love of classic and hard SF from her father and her love of fantasy and fairy tales from her mother. She lives with her husband and four children in a small town near the mountains in Utah. Tadiana juggles her career, her family, and her love for reading, travel and art, only occasionally dropping balls. She likes complex and layered stories and characters with hidden depths. Favorite authors include Lois McMaster Bujold, Brandon Sanderson, Robin McKinley, Connie Willis, Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Megan Whalen Turner, Patricia McKillip, Mary Stewart, Ilona Andrews, and Susanna Clarke.

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3 comments

  1. I also had a problem with the colonialism. There was some handwaving that Indians had a different mix of extraordinary abilities…eh. I did like the romance. I’d bogged down halfway through Wondering Sight. I’ve now gone back to it and should finish it this weekend.

    Thank you for reviewing this author! Your reviews are often when I learn that McShane has a new book out. I immediately scurry to buy it.

    • Yes, even though McShane explains the whys and wherefores of this approach in the afterword, I was still troubled by it. There’s a very specific instance of it later in the book, but I decided not to get into it in my review because it would be highly spoilerish. But it seemed like a little bit of a stretch, and stacking the deck (in terms of what is fair and right action by a colonial power) in favor of our British protagonists.

      I’m glad you appreciate McShane’s books! She writes thoughtful fantasies with enough of a romance component to satisfy the sappy part of my soul. :) I’m always anxious to read her new books.

  2. It sounds like an interesting and fun series. Early in the review, I was wondering just how the British were being portrayed, but you’ve addressed that. Thanks for reviewing these, Tadiana.

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