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Literature / The Far Pavilions

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The book which started it all.
The 1984 mini-series.
The stage-adaptation, featuring Ashton and Anjuli.

...India and its peoples; not the British India of cantonments and Clubs, or the artificial world of hill stations and horse shows, but that other India: that mixture of glamour and tawdriness, viciousness and nobility. A land full of gods and gold and famine. Ugly as a rotting corpse and beautiful beyond belief...
The Far Pavilions

The monumental masterwork of British author M. M. Kaye that took over a decade to write, The Far Pavilions was published in 1978 to worldwide fame, immediately becoming an instant, global best-seller, as well as M.M. Kaye's most famous and beloved work.

Spanning over two decades of the 19th century's most turbulent years in India, it is the lush, sweeping story of one man struggling to find who he truly is amid the triumph and tribulations of a life set against both a British-ruled India, and an ancient civilization that is slowly, but surely, turning towards the modern era. A book of love and war, prejudice and pride, courage and cruelty, honor and betrayal—and the unrelenting march of time that slows down for no one.

Born at the foot of the Himalyas, the orphaned British child Ashton Pelham-Martyn, is raised as an Indian by his ayah, Sita, who cares for him like her own son. When his true ethnicity is revealed to him, he is taken back to England to be molded into a proper Englishman. But it is in England where his identity first becomes a burden that is questioned time and time again by himself and others as he struggles to discover who Ashton truly is, and who he is not. Constantly at odds with both his peers and the world around him, Ashton realizes that it is both a blessing and a curse to see and understand multiple viewpoints, and to sympathize with more than one outlook in a world ruled and dictated by prejudice from all sides.


At once a historical, political masterpiece, and a stunning, romantic fairytale of a world and era long gone, The Far Pavilions remains a marvelous marriage between the East and West—a wedding of two different cultures, and the peoples of, and by them.

The book is divided into eight sub-books starting with Ashton's childhood, and progressing all the way to his inevitable involvement in the Second Afghan War (1878 - 1880)—the climax of the entire novel:

Book 1 - The Twig is Bent

Book 2 - Belinda

Book 3 - World out of Time

Book 4 - Bhithor

Book 5 - Paradise of Fools

Book 6 - Juli

Book 7 - My Brother Jonathon

Book 8 - The Land of Cain

A truly monumental achievement, the British answer to America's Gone with the Wind or Russia's War and Peace—M.M Kaye's The Far Pavilions is the moving, passionate, and utterly epic tale of an era now lost to the memory of a history book, and the troubled man caught time and time again between its pages.


Upon release, the book was so popular that that it caused travel agents to devise tours of the locations featured in the story. Unfortunately since then, the book seems to have faded from more mainstream public memory. The Far Pavilions also inspired a massively popular mini-series adaptation in 1984 (one of HBO's first major original productions), and then in 2005, a stage musical. It was adapted again in the form of a Radio Drama in 2011.

Edit: As of 2017 and as part of the ongoing U.K.-India Year of Culture, The Far Pavilions is Set for a $150 million remake in a joint production between the U.K and India!

The Far Pavilions displays the use of the following Tropes:

  • Absent-Minded Professor: Professor Hilary Pelham-Martyn, father of Ashton, who is so absent minded that he doesn't even remember to alert any of his relatives that he married and had a child. The consequences of said action trouble his son for years.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Ashton is "Ash", Anjuli is called "Juli" (by Ashton), and mockingly, "Kairi-baba" (a small, unripe mango). Then there is "Wally" (Walter).
  • Agent Peacock: The vain, flamboyant, deadly, and utterly evil Biju Ram. Physically however, he's a Sissy Villain who cannot stand pain—mentally, he is incredibly vicious.
  • Alpha Bitch: Janoo-rani for starters, and then Belinda. Later on, Shushila. Their personalities and actions speak for themselves.
  • Ambiguously Brown: The fully white Ashton is sometimes mistaken for this, with his swarthy complexion which he inherited from his mother who was an olive-skinned English beauty. This works in Ashton's favor almost always, as it allows him to pass as Indian/non-European several times in the book—interestingly, he's actually mentioned to be more swarthy than some of the more fair-skinned Indians, the pale-skinned Muslims, and the Pashtuns/Pathans.
  • Angst: As Ashton is life's favourite thing to pick on, he comes supplied with plenty of this. Every now and then he can overdose on this as well.
  • Anti-Hero: Ashton, whose brooding, serious personality matches his dark looks and complex past.
  • Anyone Can Die: It is a book with over 1000 pages, covering years—what else do you expect?
  • Arc Fatigue: The final sub-book gets a lot of flak from readers from being an overly detailed, terribly boring account of The Second Afghan War. It just goes on and on and on—no wonder most readers are completely turned off from it!
  • Arranged Marriage: What Shushila and Anjuli have waiting for them, courtesy of their brother, to the Rana of Bhithor.
  • Ascended Extra: Several of the background characters or just passing names become much more valuable to the plot later on.
  • Asshole Victim: Janoo-rani, who apparently was poisoned. Later on, Biju Ram. For the majority of readers, it's Shushila.
  • At Least I Admit It: A non-villainous example happens when Wally outright states that everyone, including himself, is prejudiced regardless of their colour, race or status in life.
  • Badass Beard: Ashton sports one when he returns from going AWOL. Perhaps crossing over into Beard of Sorrow, considering the circumstances of the two years spent on the Frontier.
  • Badass Bookworm: Ashton.Pelham.Martyn who speaks, reads, and writes in several languages—and can still kick your ass. Zarin, Koda Dad, and the rest. Pretty much all members of the Corps of Guides, and the locals who work along side them. You had to pass painfully difficult examinations and then some more to even be thought of as a future member of the Corps.
  • Badass Bystander: In a move he majorly comes to regret, as a boy, Ashton saves the life of Prince Lalji—and then the Prince makes him his official playmate, putting Ashton smack-dab in the middle of the intrigue, danger, and the lies of the palace. The only plus side of this is Ashton meeting baby Anjuli.
  • Badass Normal: No special powers, just pure Super Toughness, and impressive day-to-day badass living for the Corps, natives, and majority of men in those days.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Completely averted with Janoo-rani, Belinda and then Shushila. Anjuli usually is this, though she has a few darker moments.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Starting off as a yes, but ending badly as a no, this is what happens when [[spoiler: Ashton and company race to save Anjuli and Shushila from suttee now that the Rana has died. It starts off well enough, but by the time they get to Bhithor, things take a ''very'' sour turn.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Might even be a Downer Ending for some! Wally dies, Ashton parts from all his old companions and friends, including Zarin for good, and will never return to the the British or Indian society he's known all his life. Ashton finally finds a place where he can truly be himself, but has to leave every single person behind (besides Anjuli), to achieve that. The plus side is that Ashton and Anjuli end up together, though whether or not their found their "kingdom" is left open.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The young, pretty, and very vicious Belinda. Later on the incredibly manipulative Shushila who hides her evil behind her extraordinary beauty. Averted with Janoo-rani who flaunts her bitchy evil.
  • Bling of War: The fancy, full dress-uniform of the Corps of Guides. It looks very nice, but according to Ashton who has to wear it for important meetings (including a marriage ceremony), it is actually very hot and uncomfortable—he can't wait to remove it.
  • Boarding School: Ashton is installed at the painful institution from twelve to eighteen, much to his loathing.
    • Off to Boarding School: Ashton is the victim of this as his exasperated relatives, led by his father's brother, Sir Matthew Pelham-Martyn, intend to 'lick him into shape' and turn the wandering Street Urchin nephew from India into a proper British man.
  • A Boy and His X: Ashton's truly gorgeous black racing horse, Dagobaz who meets a horrifically tragic end and causes his master to break down entirely.
  • Brainy Brunette: Ashton is highly intelligent, speaking, reading and writing in several languages and excelling at school. He is also a cunning, and very shrewd soldier, as well as an excellent strategist. Anjuli is this as well, despite having no formal education whatsoever. Later on after she and Ashton are married, she quickly picks up English when he teaches her.
  • British Stuffiness: Every now and then, with the prudish, snotty, reserved behaviour of the woman (and some men), and incredibly starched manners in the cantonments. The intense desire of keeping up appearances, class snobbery, and Stiff Upper Lip. Just being reserved and generally showing little emotion.
  • Broken Bird: Throughout Anjuli's life she had varying degrees of this, but especially after she is rescued from Bhithor—she suffers from this BIG TIME thanks to the horrific treatment Shushila made her go through.
  • Broken Pedestal:
    • Subtly done with Wally towards Ashton—he goes from hero-worshiping Ashton and thinking he is the stuff of legends, to realizing that Ashton is simply a very flawed and troubled individual who is a far cry from being the heroic character Wally once thought of him. Still, this doesn't change Wally's fondness of Ashton, and they remain excellent friends.
    • Also done with Zarin and Ashton towards each other in the second last sub-book. They grow increasingly apart, and with differing view points, and ideals decide to part ways. Though Ashton muses that one day, in the distant future, they might meet again.
    • It is not exactly this, but rather Anjuli finally being fully honest to herself about Shushila's true nature that allows her to come to terms with Shushila's poisonous betrayal of her and finally heal.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: Usually Ashton and Anjuli, though sometimes it is reversed.
  • But Not Too Black: Anjuli, who comes from mixed lineage thanks to her Russian grandfather, who fell in love with, and married, her Indian grandmother. Early on in the book, George too—he almost passed, but Belinda ruined his chances.
  • Byronic Hero: The dark, brooding, and emotionally complex Ashton who never truly fits in anywhere.
  • The Captain: When he's made to be the British escort for Anjuli and Shushila's bridal party, Ashton's rank is elevated from Lieutenant to Captain for this particular mission.
  • Central Theme: Identity. Is a man the race he was born, the duties he believes in, the country he lives in—or something more?
  • Character Development:
    • The entire premise of the novel is for Ashton to discover who he truly is: is he Ashok, the British boy raised as an Indian? Is he Ashton, the British man in service to the Raj? Or is he something else entirely? As the book constantly explores the complex and contradictory nature of race, social customs, and identity—this is not an easy resolution. It is made even harder by Ashton's being Raised by Natives backstory. Then there is his "it's not fair!" viewpoint that he's told over and over and 'over' again to get rid of, and that he struggles to change and adapt—which also plays a major part in the run of the story, even up to the ending. Whew!
    • Wally too undergoes this to some extent: he's first seen as this very loyal, but also happy-go-lucky, not-too-serious young man. Some years later, while still cheerful and loyal, he sheds the more juvenile aspects of his personality, and becomes much more serious, and rather less of the Wide-Eyed Idealist he was once.
    • There is a difference between the Anjuli of the past—the shy, frightened and cry-baby and starved-for-affection little girl of childhood—and then the somber, quiet, and usually reserved young woman who hides a passionate heart. Later on after she and Ashton are married, Anjuli matures further into a strong, dependable young woman who, though still quiet and peaceful, is warm, loving, firm-willed, and utterly loyal.
  • Child of Two Worlds: Ashton could be the poster boy of this, being a white British boy who did not know of his British blood until he was 12, and had spent all his former years raised in Indian culture, and speaking the language. Needless to say, his sudden uprooting, and forceful induction into British culture and the UK, came as quite the culture shock. He spends almost the entirety of the book struggling to balance his two cultural sides, while trying to find out who Ashton truly is as a person.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: In a very touching example, Anjuli towards Ashton (then known as "Ashok"), who was the only person who truly cared for her, and treated her with affection, as she was ill-treated by almost everyone else. After Ashton escapes the palace, this turns into Patient Childhood Love Interest for Anjuli for years. Later on, Anjuli triumphs as the Victorious Childhood Friend towards Ashton, who falls for her almost from the moment they meet again as adults.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Ashton tries his hand at this much to the anger of his superiors—it works, but not without a group effort, and major losses, both physically and mentally.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Depending on who he is fighting and the circumstances, Ashton goes between this and Let's Fight Like Gentlemen.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: The story starts with Ashton actually taking his first breaths as a newborn baby, and follows him along for over twenty years of his life.
  • Cool Old Guy: Many scattered throughout the book, but especially Koda Dad Khan who is also an Old Master, and beloved father-figure to Ashton. Also, Mahdoo, Kaka-ji Rao. Later on in his brief appearance, Red.
  • Cool Old Lady: The wise, tolerant and understanding Mrs. Viccary, an older woman who befriends Ashton, even becoming his private confidante several times. Their friendship is based on the fact that she, (like him), loves India and is educated and respectful of its customs and its people.
  • Culture Clash: Played with in terms of Britain and India—on one hand, there is mutual (and especially on the Indian end), increasing dislike of the other; the British especially are shown many-a-time to be insensitive and mocking of Indian Culture, but then again, both sides are shown to have racist ideas towards the other.
    • Ashton is pretty much the embodiment of this being not only caught between being British or Indian but also (to a lesser extent) caught between being Hindu, Christian or Muslim. One might say he is culture clash personified.
  • Damsel in Distress: Seeing as Ashton and co. get news that Anjuli—and to a lesser extent, Shushila—are about to be forced to commit suttee because of the death of the Rana, Anjuli, to their knowledge, is this. However...when they actually arrive to save her and Shushila, things turn out to be much more complex.
  • Dances and Balls: In the early part of the novel, these are mentioned frequently.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Not everything, but from the time Ashton goes to work and then later on, becomes a playmate for the spoiled prince Lalji of the Palace of Winds, until his escape to save his own life some years later. Not to mention the fact that Ashton didn't even know he was actually white and British until he was 12, caused serious identity problems for him that continue to plague him until the very end of the book.
  • Deathbed Confession: While it doesn't happen on a bed, the dying Sita finally reveals the true parentage of Ashton who spent the last 12 years of his life believing he was Indian, only to be told he was wrong. She even pleads as her Last Request for Ashton to go and find an English person who will help him find whatever family he has left, and regain his place in the British world.
  • Death by Childbirth: Ashton's mother succumbs to this, having miscalculated her due date and then giving birth to Ashton practically in the middle of nowhere—in the crest of a pass in the Himalayas. This proves fatal, as she dies from complications due both to his birth, and the cold, dusty wind just a few days later.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Ashton gets hit with this repeatedly throughout the book as it is connected to his Fatal Flaw, but no more so than during the Bithor Arc.
  • Dirty Foreigner: How some of the British see the Indians (most notably, Belinda and her mother)—even though they're in their country. On the other hand, plenty of Indians/Muslims feel this way to each other depending on location/Caste/skin colour. It really turns into the pot calling the kettle black.
  • Dirty Old Man: Crossing over with later on with Depraved Bisexual in regard to Shushila, the Rana of Bhithor's former preference was for men and young boys.
  • Doorstopper: Reprints of the novel clock in at over 900 pages. The original edition was over a 1000, and some editions divide the book into two individual copies. Not to mention that for all editions, the print is rather on the small side. The book itself is split into several sub-books, each over a hundred pages long.
  • Double Standard: The men, both British and Natives, are free to carry on with women as they please on the side, but the women, no matter their race, are expected to remain prim, proper and very submissive towards a man—and proper virgins until they're wed, unless they have a profession in the sex industry (and then of course, they're looked down upon by society, even by the men who make use of them!).
    • Anjuli actually calls Ashton out on this after their cave encounter, saying that a man may be with any woman he pleases and be free of the consequences, but a woman will be reminded daily, both from carrying the child and the abuse she will receive from society from being an unwed mother. Anjuli also questions Ashton on how he can be so sure he has not done the same—how can he be certain that he himself has not got some woman pregnant from random, past encounters?
  • Driven to Suicide: Thanks to Belinda for viciously outing his mixed ancestry, George bites the bullet. later on Ashton of all people seriously thinks about doing this when Anjuli parts from him to marry the Rana of Bhithor. Moments later, he's disgusted at himself for such absurd weakness.
  • Dwindling Party: Several times: when Ashton and company go on a three year mission to catch a thief on the Frontier; when Ashton and company attempt to rescue Anjuli and Shushila from suttee after the Rana dies, and finally when Ashton, Wally, and their fellow comrades fight in the Second Afghan War.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Everywhere—what with a bit off Big, Screwed-Up Family, characters shuffled in and out of the Trauma Conga Line, half the cast with a Dark and Troubled Past...basically, this book screws everyone over, and then a couple more times to get the job done right.
  • Empty Shell: Hinted at while the rescue mission is taking place but revealed fully later on, Anjuli is shown to have become this, thanks to Shushila who has finally revealed her true colours, coupled with the crushing loneliness, and lack of love Anjuli experienced while in Bhithor. Taken Up to Eleven when Anjuli finally reveals to Ashton that she was starved and kept in isolation by Shushila.
  • Ending Fatigue: The final sub-book simply reeks of this as fans have complained, and could have benefited from some serious editing.
  • End of an Age: Several times. When Ashton escapes from The Palace of the Winds, his life—and even his identity—comes crashing down upon him. Again when Ashton and Zarin part ways, Ashton himself realizes that that part of his life is over, and he is embarking on a new phase. And then at the very end of the book, Ashton leaves every single thing or person (except for Anjuli and his servant) behind to start a new anonymous life where his own life began—at the foothills of the Himalayas, the Far Pavilions.
    • Though the book ends somewhere in the 1880's, The British Raj draws ever nearer to its ultimate end, and the era and lifestyle move ever closer to their demise. It's incredibly bittersweet and moving.
  • The Epic: On the scale of Russia's War and Peace, and America's Gone With the Wind—which are no small feats by any means.
  • Fat Bastard: The Maharajah of Bithor, who is as disgusting as he is evil.
  • Fatal Flaw: For Ashton, it is his impulsiveness, as well as childish belief of "it's just not fair!". It takes him over 900 pages to overcome this.
  • First Girl Wins: It was inevitable that Ashton would end up with Anjuli, whom he has known since she was just a baby, and he a young boy,but the way the author approaches this makes for a captivating read.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: In an amusing scene, Ashton swears in an Indian language when in the company of British army-men—the only person who picks up on how foul his words are, is an Indian servant who is shocked. There is also another scene where he's speaking to Anjuli in Hindi after she sneaks out to meet him the same night they meet for the first time years later—Ashton swears and calls her a bitch in English after she accuses him of being frightened that they would be discovered—not one of Ashton's better moments.
  • Foreshadowing: That repeated dream of a girl riding on a horse with Ashton, with her long black hair streaming in the wind, urging him to make the horse go faster because there is someone chasing them isn't just a dream...
  • Fridge Brilliance: The ending of the story takes place in the 1880's where Ashton is in his latter 20's...he could still be alive (though a very old man), in 1947—the year India finally gains its independence from Britain.
  • Genius Bruiser: Ashton—he's got the brains, he's got the brawn, and he knows how to use both to his best advantage.
  • Giggling Villain: Ugh, Biju Ram and it's creepy.
  • Good-Looking Privates: Several army men, both British and Native, are said to be rather easy on the eyes.
  • Growing Up Sucks: The first sub-book which covers Ashton's childhood and teenage years is pretty much this, starting with Ashton being made Lalji's playmate, then Sita telling him his true parentage, and finally being taken back to England to be brought up "properly" as an Englishman—after spending 12 years of his life thinking he was Indian. Growing Up Sucks indeed.
  • The Gunslinger: Ashton's pretty damn handy with his rifle, and has excellent aim. Who takes the cake however with their superb skills, and their perfect, ''impeccable'' aim is the hunter, Bukta.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: The British Raj is painfully cruel to those of mixed ancestry. George learns this the hard way. Anjuli has some problems with this too. On the other hand, while every now and then the fully-white Ashton gets this comment upon his tanned looks, this is actually used to his advantage, and becomes very handy several times—allowing him to pass as North-Indian or Afghan for example.
  • Have I Mentioned That I Am Heterosexual Today: Briefly stated while talking, it is mentioned in conversation that due to lack of women folk when out in the wilderness of India, British and Indian soldiers indulged their needs with younger boys or teenagers as there were no prostitutes around. Ashton claims he simply cannot understand how some men resorted to this.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Ashton and Wally are the very best of friends—there is even a scene in the book where their close relationship is commentated upon as being "unnatural". Ashton and Zarin were once this, but in the last two sub-books of the novel, they come to a mutual understanding that their relationship and personal ideals/views have changed and they part, though there is a Hope Spot speculation that perhaps one day in the distant future, they will meet again.
  • Historical Domain Character:
    • Ashton's good friend, Walter "Wally" Hamilton, is a fictionalized version of the real life Walter Richard Pollock Hamilton, the Irish recipient of the Victoria Cross—the highest honour awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Lieutenant Hamilton was awarded this for his bravery in the Second Afghan War (a war featured heavily in the last two sub-books of The Far Pavilions), where he was killed in action in 1879 at the age of 23.
    • Pierre Louis Napoleon Cavagnari also makes an appearance in the final two sections of the book.
    • Several other real-life historical figures are mentioned though they don't actually make an appearance.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: It seems like it wasn't such a good idea for Biju-ram to mark his own knife with such a deadly poison after all...
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Said to be the prettiest girl in the Guides' part of India, and one rather popular with the British men stationed there. Ashton knows of her as well, perhaps hinting he too has been subject to her charms in the past. It is outright stated that he's paid for courtesans in the past as well.
  • Hopeless Suitor: George for Belinda which turns out HORRIBLY. Later on, Wally for Anjuli; he doesn't even try, considering he knows Ashton and Anjuli only have eyes for each other. He's happy for them nonetheless.
  • Hot-Blooded: Ashton sometimes—much to his own frustration, and the massive annoyance and condemnation of his superiors.
  • Ho Yay: Some other soldiers—especially the older ones—think that Ashton and Wally are "too close", and that their relationship is "improper" and "odd".
  • I Choose to Stay: In the end, Ashton may have found his Far Pavilions—and if he has, he's never returning from them.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: Wally. Even until the end.
  • It's All About Me: There is a brief moment where Ashton goes through this thought, fantasizing about getting Anjuli back from the clutches of the Rana, regardless of his companions all dying, coupled with the immense danger of provoking war with Bhithor. He's utterly disgusted and angry at himself for even thinking such a thing.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: The reader is informed that this is what eventually happens to Belinda (which she remains utterly oblivious to), when she's been married to her much older husband for some years. Gone is the young, pretty yellow-haired girl—she's been replaced by a "stout" woman with faded hair and an aged face.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Ashton wore them sometimes as a child; as he grew up, he kept leveling up in being cynical—though the glasses still showed up every now and then even as an adult. Much to the dismay of his elders and superiors.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The ever-troubled, angsty Ashton, though underlying all his difficulties, he really is a Nice Guy—it just isn't so obvious under all the problems life keeps piling upon him.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: The increasing mess of the plan and the actual, disastrous attempt to rescue Anjuli and Shushila after their husband, the Maharajah of Bithor dies, makes Ashton and pretty much everyone else involved in said rescue become this.
  • Lady and Knight: With Anjuli, the beautiful Indian princess, and Ashton, the British soldier. Also a mixture of Bodyguard Crush, as Ashton is the soldier hired to escort the brides-to-be, Shushila and Anjuli, to their new home.
  • The Lancer: Wally to Ashton.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Ashton felt this way towards Anjuli for years as a little boy. He thought she felt the same too—she didn't.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Of course Ashton and Anjuli—without each other, they can never be happy. Justified, as they're two halves of the same whole, and it is shown in the book just how well suited they are for one another.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: A simply MASSIVE number—all interesting and important to the plot in some way; even the ones with barely any screen time!
  • Love at First Sight: Anjuli to Ashton since she was a child, and then again after meeting him, (though she is unaware that he is the same Ashok of childhood.) When he's reunited with her after all those years apart, Ashton in turn, feels this way to Anjuli though it only dawns upon him when he comforts her after revealing that he is indeed the Ashok she remembers. Later on, this happens to Wally of all people, who falls in love with Anjuli the moment he lays eyes on her—not that he ever reveals that to anyone, knowing full well he has no chance.
  • Love Confession: After he kisses her for the first time in the caves, Ashton pulls back nervously to ask if Anjuli truly loves him. He gets this as a response:
    Ashton: 'Julie, do you love me?'
    Anjuli: 'I love you. I have always loved you. I have always been yours and I always will be; and if I had loved you first as a brother, it was not a brother that I waited for as I grew up and became a woman, but a lover.'
  • Love Epiphany: Ashton gets his dose after comforting a devastated Anjuli the same night he tells her that he is the same Ashok of their past.
    'No,' whispered Ash, arguing with himself in the silence. 'No of course not. It's ridiculous. It couldn't possibly happen like that...not in just one minute, between one breath and the next. It couldn't...' But he knew that it could. Because it had just happened to him.
  • Love Hurts: Especially when you're a British soldier who is madly in love with an Indian princess.
  • Made of Iron: Mostly averted, because even though Ashton is strong and in tip-top physical shape, the harsh lifestyle and difficult duties make him susceptible to serious injury more often than not.
  • The Main Characters Do Everything: Time and time again, Ashton discovers the hard way that most of the people surrounding him are utterly useless. On the other hand, this is exactly what gets him in trouble, and makes him somewhat of a renegade soldier.
  • A Man Is Always Eager: After they kiss in the caves, Ashton has to restrain himself from having his way with Anjuli. Then again, in his situation, it's hard to blame him.
  • That Man Is Dead: Finally and completely recognized and accepted by Ashton permanently at the very end of the book, where he leaves both Ashok and Ashton in the past along with the entire life he's led up to this point. He becomes the person he's searched for for years, a balance between Ashok and Ashton, and the mature man he has grown to be.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: The sinister Biju Ram wears silken clothes and flashy jewelry over his black heart, and adores the finer things in life.
  • Married to the Job: Wally LOVES being a soldier in the Corps of Guides.
  • May–December Romance: Ashton's parents were this, Belinda's marriage is this, and Anjuli's marriage would have been this. Her sister, Shushila had this. Quite a common trend, given the time period. (Ashton himself is six or seven years older than Anjuli, which, while being a difference, is still not enough to fully become this trope.)
  • Mean Brit: Appears every now and then, especially considering the setting where classism, racism, sexism, and snobby superiority joined forces with each other.
  • Memento MacGuffin: As children, Anjuli gave Ashton a small, cheap mother-of-pearl fish that he split in two on the night he escaped with Sita from the palace. Ashton split the fish in two, keeping one piece for herself and the other half for Anjuli "to remember him by". Years later, the fish is how Anjuli realizes that Ashton is the same Ashok from childhood and vice versa—this is what cements Ashton's suspicion that Anjuli is indeed the same girl from his childhood.
  • Mighty Whitey: Averted. Sure, majority of the British army personnel, and the civilians are under this impression—they're dead wrong for the most part. While certain British ways/inventions/strategies are used, they're not presented nor implied to be anything along the lines of Mighty Whitey. Both sides are shown to have things to learn from each other; not to mention, the theme of Mighty Whitey is presented only to be deconstructed and discussed.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow:
    • Averted wonderfully. Ashton does not "get" Anjuli because he's white and British—their relationship, their love of each other is rooted in the past they share together, which none but them understands. Anjuli has loved Ashton even before she (or he!) knew he was actually European; she has loved him since he was a child, then known as Ashok, and (to everyone including himself), an Indian boy. She loved him and knew him first as such; later, when they meet as adults, she's immediately drawn to him, and this again stems from her love of Ashok, now Ashton. Him being white and British in reality, does not change anything of her feelings for him. She loves Ashton regardless of whether he's British or Indian.
    • Likewise, Ashton, though he only fell in love with Anjuli when he met her again as an adult, did not "fall for her" because she was this lovely Indian girl. Rather, he felt the deep bond and love for her based on their incommunicable past, which no one but them would ever know or understand. His love for her began with their connection from the past—she is the only thing from that era which hasn't, and which never does change for him. She is his stability, his unchanging comfort, his anchor. He needs her, he cannot live without her. She feels the same.
  • Mood Whiplash: Several times, and to a shocking degree.
  • Mounted Combat: You want to get someplace quickly on land, and then battle in the 1800s? Best bet is a horse.
  • Nice Guy: Wally; he's kind, loyal, affectionate and a gentleman. The only character in the book who does not ever lose their good heart—not even momentarily.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Ashton, who befriends several servants closely, (and who turn out to be very helpful later on). Anjuli too, but with varying results.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: Almost said word for word by Ashton when he reveals to Anjuli that he's really the Ashok she knew from childhood. To say she's shocked that the tall British man in Raj uniform in front of her is the same 12 year old Indian boy she was so fond of as a child is an understatement.
  • Nobody Thinks It Will Work: The general, and thought of those who know Anjuli and Ashton's true relationship. For obvious reasons.
  • Not So Stoic: Ashton, who is is implied to be under great mental strain after the whole Ala Yar affair. Later on in the book, he breaks down harshly after the rescue mission goes so badly wrong, though he held it together completely until then.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Both Ashton and Wally, though Wally is the true example of this, being both an extremely loyal soldier and very gentlemanly by nature. Ashton's...much more of a refined Bad Boy.
  • Old Man Marrying a Child: What happens to the 13 year old Shushila when she's betrothed to the much older Maharajah of Bithor. However, for the customs of the era and the country, this was normal and not seen as such.
    • Anjuli on the other hand at 18, is revolted at the thought that a man of the Rana's age and physique would ever lay a hand on her. Which is another reason why she gives her virginity to Ashton, coupled with the fact that she is in love with him.
  • Older Than They Look: Anjuli, who looks like a young, even childlike teenager, instead of a woman in her early 20's. Depending on the day and/or how much stress he's under, Ashton.
  • Omniglot:Like his father before him, Ashton is gifted with the ability to speak, read, and write in several languages, though this skill isn't limited to just himself—members of the Corps had to be able to do this, in order to communicate and more effectively "govern their subjects".
    • Non-Corps members, i.e, the Pashtuns or Indians, pretty much grew up with this ability.
  • One-Man Army: Averted, as Ashton definitely needs his fellows/any useful men to help him in larger-scale missions, war—or the rescue of princesses.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: The narration always refers to Ashton as "Ash", a clever balance between his Ashok and Ashton identities, further blurring the lines between who he really is. Walter's always referred to as "Wally".
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Belinda's parents (especially the father), towards Ashton (and any young man in general), as it was expected for the young man to devote his youth to the British Army of India, and not waste it by getting married and being "burdened" with wife and children. If a girl was to be married, it was to a ''much'' older man well out of his youth and already settled.
  • Penny Among Diamonds: George, though he does his best to hide it.
  • Period Piece: An excruciatingly researched and historically accurate fictional story covering the mid to late 1800's British Raj, the Second Afghan War, and mentions of loads of former, (and important), historic dates that took over a decade to write and is absolutely awesome.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: Besides the more formal versions of military uniform, the gorgeous outfits of the Indian royalty are depicted as such—not to mention the stunning saris and incredible jewelry of the princesses, Anjuli and Shushila.
  • Plain Jane: Anjuli was not a pretty child. Later on however...
  • Positive Discrimination: Subverted. While the Indian/non-British characters are fleshed out, and reoccurring statements of "India should belong and be governed by Indians" are outright stated and discussed, the author does a masterful job of illustrating the ingrained prejudices and racism on all sides—British, Muslim, Hindu, Pashtun, Mixed-Race, etc. Though the author's love of India and its peoples are apparent, Kaye is still brutally honest in the bigotry, racism and prejudice from the Indian characters to one an another as well as non-Indians—especially in Caste and religious matters, where prejudice runs rampant. Essentially, there is no side that doesn't have some sort of prejudice in their own way—the British, and India in general, are mirrors of each other in that regard. That is not even covering the sexism, and the very inferior status of women in the very much male-dominated Raj, country, and overall era—globally!
  • Pretty Boy: George Garfoth is described as such, especially as a child. This doesn't help him one bit.
  • The Protagonist: The one and only Ashton of course. Some claim that India itself is also a protagonist of sorts as well.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Over and over again, Ashton dreams of himself riding for his life on a horse with a girl sitting behind him with long black hair, urging him to ride faster, and get away from those who pursue them. Everything in this dream comes to pass eventually. And the actual moment is anything but dreamy, and turns into a merciless nightmare.
  • Puppy Love: Anjuli has been in love with Ashton (Ashok to her), since she was just a small child. She never grew out of it, and never stopped loving him, despite not seeing him for years.
  • Race for Your Love: Done seriously and very dangerously when Ashton and company race to save Anjuli, and to a lesser extent, Shushila from suttee.
  • Raised by Natives: A truly epic example: His mother having died due to complications of childbirth, Ashton is then taken care of by his absentminded father, Professor Hilary, and his father's friend, the retired officer Akbar Khan, as well as Sita, the wife of Hilary's groom—the latter two of whom love him as their own son, and spoil him. Ashton spends the first 18 months of his life among the mountains, and by the time he is four years old, doesn't speak a word of English—only the local dialects of which he picks up a lot, having acquired the talent of languages from his father, the Professor. He rarely wears European clothing, and dresses like the locals, passing as them as well due to the fair-skin, and Caucasian features of the Indians around him.
    When the camp is struck by an epidemic of cholera, his father, Akbar Khan, and Sita's husband (among many others), are all taken by it, leaving Sita to take care of not-even 5 year old Ashton when the rest die. Though they leave the camp, the violent Sepoy Uprising of 1857 (The Sepoy Mutiny), prevents Sita from returning Ashton to his distant English relatives—they escape the bloody situation, and find refuge in the kingdom of Gulkote where Ashton continues to be raised as an Indian child, totally forgetting that he is in fact, a white British boy. Known as "Ashok" (Ash), Ashton is eventually hired as a servant boy and later, companion for the crown prince of Gulkote—it is here that he meets and befriends the mistreated princess, baby Anjuli, who grows very close to him, along with Zarin, and his father Koda Dad Khan.
    Some years pass and Ashton discovers a murderous plot against the prince, but discovers that he himself will be killed for the discovery. To save his life, he is urged to flee with Sita. He parts from Anjuli and the rest, and escapes from the city. Sita dies shortly afterwards, but not before she gives Ashton the long withheld information of his true lineage, the documentation, and also the instructions to find his relatives. This Ashton obediently does, and at the age of 12, returns to England to spend the next several years in constant opposition and confusion with everyone. He is sent to boarding school (where he excels in his studies but fails to make any friends), to be forcefully molded into "a proper British man" with a "proper British way of thinking".
    Ashton returns to India as a young man in late summer, 1871.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Notably Anjuli with her very long, silky raven-black hair that Ashton is not only rather fond of, but dreams about on more than one occasion.
  • Rated M for Manly: The Corps of Guides, the Frontier Men, the army and the British Raj/India in general. The era made it such.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: The devout Irish-Protestant Wally loves the Lord just as much as he loves war. Ashton tends to be much more of a Nay-Theist. Anjuli, in her turn, is pretty much the 1800's version of an atheist—she doesn't believe in any gods, and she feels that if they exist, they ignore her pleas to them. Everyone else tends to be either Muslim, Hindu, or some form of Christianity. There's even one Jew mentioned!
    • Ash occasionally recites a pantheistic Hindu prayer:
    'Oh, Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.
    Thou art Everywhere, but I worship thee here:
    Thou art without form, but I worship thee in these forms;
    Thou needest no praise, yet I offer thee these prayers and salutations.
    Lord, forgive three sins that are due to my human limitations.'
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Throughout the book, though mainly in the earlier parts, Ashton gets this from his superiors for being a rather Wild Card soldier. Later on after the whole debacle with Shushila, Ashton gives one to Anjuli of all people, being extremely frustrated (and secretly hurt), by her severely changed demeanor.
  • Rescue Romance: Ashton saves Anjuli from drowning when the palanquin she is riding in topples over when the massive bridal party is crossing the river. He feels drawn to her immediately, and this is what starts off his feelings for her.
  • Rescue Sex: After he kisses her while they're trapped in the cave during the sandstorm, Ashton wants nothing more than to do this with Anjuli. However, being a gentleman and knowing she is a virgin, he asks if she loves him, (thereby also implying consent). She says yes, and willingly goes along with him. Ashton is even considerate enough to warn her later on that, "he was going to hurt her". However, Ashton loses that gentlemanly consideration later on. After this scene happens, they take to discussing their feelings for each other, and the situation they are now in. When Anjuli refuses to run off with him, abandoning everything, Ashton, now furious, proceeds to "have his way with her." It would have definitely been rape if Anjuli hadn't given in, and it hadn't been implied to be more of "hard ravishment." Still, it comes across as rather TOO borderline. And Anjuli still doesn't agree to run away with Ashton for all his trouble.
  • Retired Badass: Several former, older army men throughout the book such as Akbar Khan or Colonel Anderson—they may not be in action much anymore, but boy, are they still badass!
  • Rising Water, Rising Tension: While crossing the ford with the bridal party, the ruth carrying Anjuli tips over, and Ashton rushes to get her out before she drowns.
  • Save the Princess: Upon hearing that the Rana of Bhithor, Anjuli and Shushila's husband, has died, and the women are condemned to suttee, Ashton invokes this trope with a few others. He doesn't initially expect to be able to rescue Anjuli, but intends to spare her the agony of burning to death by shooting her in the head when the fire is lit, after which he will shoot himself, since he would be tortured to death for interfering with the funeral rite, and doesn't want to live on after Anjuli's death in any case. Upon arriving, they discover that Anjuli has been spared from the flames by Shushila. However, it turns out things are far more complex than that, and the mission goes HORRIBLY wrong with several characters (and their horses) dying brutally.
  • Scenery Porn: There is some truly gorgeous imagery throughout the book. Perhaps that is why there were actual tours crafted both around and to the locations described in the book, due to its immense popularity.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage:
    • Ashton loses his virginity rather amusingly when he's "taken advantage of" at the age of 16, by naughty housemaid Lily Briggs, five years his senior back in England. He's confused by the encounter but goes along with it, finding it "immensely enjoyable", and proves to be an "apt pupil". They spend the next several days romping in bed together every night until their little fling is found out—Lily is dismissed, and Ashton is soundly thrashed. It's hilarious.
    • Later on, Anjuli loses her virginity to Ashton with full consent, because she has loved him for years and also does not want to lose her maidenhood to the old, disgusting Rana of Bhithor.
  • Sexless Marriage: Fortunately for Anjuli, her marriage to the Rana is in name only; he never even lays a finger on her—which is good for Ashton as well.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Ashton's first impression of Anjuli after seeing her for the first time since they were children. He can't tear his eyes away from how stunningly beautiful she has become, and has to hastily look away when someone points that out.
  • Shown Their Work: M.M. Kaye, the author, grew up in and loved India and lived many years of her life there—it shows beautifully in her writing. While her story is fictional, the setting is painstakingly researched; the country, laws, rules, geographical location, land-type, buildings, transportation, manners, social customs (both British and Indian), and war are all accurately described. Even such things as clothing, medical treatment, food, wording/slang of the day are written flawlessly. And M.M Kaye not only keeps this up for every change of scenery, land and location (even by boat!) but continues for over 1,000 pages. Showing their work indeed.
  • Shrinking Violet: As a child, Anjuli was this, being cast off, abused, and forgotten by the rest of the servants at Janoo-rani's orders. George Garfoth is implied to be one as a little boy as well.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Under their beautiful exteriors, the quiet, gentle Anjuli, and the spoilt, selfish Shushila are this.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: What the elders keep trying to din into Ashton's head.
  • Sim Sim Salabim: As the book reads both like a realistic historic work, and also a fairytale of an era and land gone by, this Trope is both yes and no. The book showcases the mystical, ancient side of India—for instance, there is suttee, medicine men, charming snakes to do your bidding; there are rajahs, and ancient temples alongside gorgeous, sprawling palaces, elephants, tigers; beautiful princesses, and conniving royalty. Then again, this part of India WAS true of India in that period and its history. At the same time however, the book also makes sure to point out the stereotypes about India, and makes sure to show the complexity of the land and its people as well as customs. The author also makes sure to point out the hypocrisy of British rule, and deconstructs the "nobility" of said British Rule—calling out the White Man's Burden, and the superior thinking of the British towards the Indians, especially as it is shown the British had many things to learn from India and the Indian peoples. (And vice-versa). The book shows over and over that both sides have things to learn from each other: in some things the British way is better, in other ways the Indian way works best, and then,sometimes a mix of both is the right choice.
    • While the author makes sure to show that both sides have corruption, prejudice and racism, Kaye also showcases that there was good mixed in as well as the bad, and the system worked best when two sides learned from each other, and the British especially stopped thinking along Mighty Whitey lines. It's an honest portrayal, and one that is fair to all sides of the picture—the good is pointed out regardless of side; the bad is dealt with the same way.
    • Though in saying all this, it is clear that the author's sympathies still lay with India more often than not. Even when she died, her ashes were taken, per her request, to be scattered in India—the country she adored. She was British and white.
      'I am not,' insisted Hilary 'an unpatriotic man. But I cannot see anything admirable in stupidity, injustice and sheer incompetence in high places, and there is too much of all three in the present administration.'
      'I will not quarrel with you over that,' said Akbar Khan. 'But it will pass; and your children's children will forget the guilt and remember only the glory, while ours will remember the oppression and deny you the good. Yet there is much good.'
  • Single-Target Sexuality: Anjuli has eyes for no one but Ashton, and others might as well not even exist.
    • Wally subtly has this for Anjuli later on.
  • Smooch of Victory: After spending weeks (perhaps over a month), with each other, as Ashton is the British soldier in charge of leading the bridal party to Bhithor, and having secret (totally platonic), meetings at night recalling their childhood together, Ashton, Anjuli, and a few others go riding. However, a massive sandstorm swells up, Ashton and Anjuli are separated from the rest, and seek shelter in a large cave. They get separated from each other while inside the pitch-blackness and Ashton, fearing that Anjuli has injured herself calls out desperately for her. She answers, stumbles into his arms and Ashton (who by this time is very much in love with her), kisses her both in thankfulness and desire.
  • Sniping Mission: Though entirely unplanned, Ashton finds himself in this position when Anjuli begs him to kill Shushila to save her from the horrific death of suttee. He had originally intended to do this for Juli, but when he discovered that she wasn't going to be burned along with her sister, the plan changed. Ashton is not pleased and doesn't want to do it—however, after seeing the flames of suttee approaching Shushila and her initial composure dissolve into terror, Ashton gives in. Though it is a very difficult shot, his aim does not miss.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: This is what Anjuli hopes and yearns for, as she wants to have Ashton's child and care for the baby to both remember Ashton by, as well as give her something to better tolerate marriage to the Rana of Bhithor. It doesn't happen, and Anjuli does not get pregnant.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: Sometimes.
  • Spot of Tea: From the simple refreshment, to using the drink/customs to show how the majority of British (civilians) who lived in India refused to adapt or even try anything about India, or their culture—other than to laugh and mock them. To be fair, those in the Corps of Guides and the soldiers in general, learned at least one Indian language, ate the food, and were very familiar with the customs. They had to be, in order to get the Indians into the army and work for them—though there were some who genuinely wanted to learn about India with no ulterior motives. Plenty of British soldiers worked side by side with the Indians, and even befriended them, though there was coolness on both sides regardless.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: In the flavour of half-caste, unloved, mistreated Princess—and the brooding British soldier who has known her since she was a child.
  • Statuesque Stunner: Anjuli grows from being a plain, unattractive child into a tall, shapely young woman with tawny eyes, and raven black hair.
  • Stiff Upper Lip: British or not, everyone gets their turn at repressed emotions. It was either this, or break down completely, especially in drastic situations.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Very much with Ashton who is cold, unfriendly, brooding, and reserved with the majority of people—but with those he cares for, he becomes talkative, friendly, open, and affectionate. Considering he's a soldier with a confusing past, this isn't surprising, and depending on the situation, Ashton becomes a mixture of both. By nature however, he's a quiet, introverted man.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Ashton always was on the verge of this, but as a full-grown adult he achieves it with his swarthy, brooding looks, dark hair, and tall, lean-muscled build. Several other men in the book are this as well, both among the British and the natives of India. Zarin, George, Sarji, and the Pashtuns in general.
  • Tall, Dark, and Snarky: Ashton, when he's in the mood to be, can use his sarcasm and caustic words to a cutting degree. In lighter situations, the aforementioned soften into charming wit.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Ashton. Just look at all the shit the universe makes him go through!
  • Unrequited Love:
    • It is subtly implied that Wally falls in love instantly with Anjuli upon Ashton introducing them, as he is immediately taken in by her rare beauty and charm. However, Wally says nothing since he knows it is hopeless, and remains happy for the both of them, wishing them the best since Ashton is his dearest friend, and he is fond of Anjuli.
    • George Garforth is truly in love with Belinda, despite people thinking he is a gold digger, and him knowing he has no chance— both because he knows Belinda does not care for him, as well as his lineage spoiling things for him. Still he tries, but Belinda savagely turns him down, and utterly ruins his life in the process.
    • Kaka-ji Rao reveals to Ashton that he too once loved someone he could not be with—both her caste, and the fact that she was too young for (Kaka-ji Rao), kept him from speaking of his feelings. She died young, and he never forgets her.
  • Uptown Girl: Considering that Anjuli is a princess of royalty and lineage, and Ashton just one of many regular British officers and well beneath her rank? Yes.
  • Victorian Novel Disease: Cholera, which shows up with a vengeance at the start of the book, killing Ashton's father, Akbar Khan, and almost everyone in that location, except ''two people''.
  • War Is Glorious: What Wally sincerely believes from the bottom of his heart.
  • War Is Hell: Which is why Ashton and many others return broken, changed, and bitterly hardened men.
  • White Man's Burden: The British Raj in general are under this impression. They are wrong.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Despite the tense situation, it is still amusing when, as a child, Ashton is forced to disguise himself as a girl to escape with Sita, and avoid being caught by their pursuers who are looking for "a woman and a little boy". The narration even remarks that Ashton makes a "very good girl", draped in one of Sita's saris, and with some brass ornaments to embellish the look.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Janoo-rani to Anjuli.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Over and over and over again, Ashton is told to stop thinking in such childish, black and white terms as "it's not fair", and to stop applying such an immature outlook to the far more complex problems of the real world. At the end of the book, he finally does.
  • Women Are Wiser: Anjuli is the one to put a stop to the dangerous, and utterly absurd plan of Ashton's to have her run away with him. He's furious about her refusal—but then grudgingly and bitterly comes to realize that she's absolutely right.
  • The Woobie: Ashton's flavours come in The Woobie, Iron Woobie, and Stoic Woobie. Justified, since life has a bad habit of making him somewhat of a The Chew Toy.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Ashton—but only when absolutely necessary, and to stop a panic attack/mental breakdown. He is very tempted to raise his hands against Belinda after he finds out what she did to George, and her true nature in general is revealed.
  • Younger Than They Look: Sita and the hill people in general who look much older than their actual age, given the hard living.

...And it may even be that they found their Kingdom.

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