Set just after the end of the First World War, The Tea Planter’s Bride follows the story of two cousins, Sophie and Tilly, who travel to India to begin new lives with their husbands. For Sophie, born in India but raised in Edinburgh, the journey back to India is an emotional one as she longs to find out what happened to her parents but she soon discovers India isn’t quite as idyllic as she remembers. As the stifling heat wreaks havoc on her husband’s health, Sophie comes to the startling conclusion that she’s married a man she doesn’t really love.
When Tilly accepted James Robson’s proposal, she knew she wasn’t his first choice as a bride but with no other offers forthcoming, Tilly is determined to make the most of this opportunity to gain independence from her overbearing family. Daunted at the prospect of settling in India, Tilly is delighted when she realises Sophie will be travelling with her, especially when she discovers she is pregnant with her first child. Although Tilly is happy with James, she finds life quite oppressive amongst the British and she occupies her time by delving into the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Sophie’s parents. As Tilly digs deeper into the mystery, she realises her husband hasn’t been entirely honest about his actions and the truth proves to be more painful than anyone could have guessed.
The Tea Planter’s Bride is the second book in the India Tea series and is a sequel to The Tea Planter’s Daughter which followed the story of Clarissa Belhaven and Wesley Robson. Since Wesley is the cousin of James Robson, they appear at various points throughout the novel as Sophie and Tilly settle in India.
The book begins in Scotland where Sophie lives with her maternal aunt who has raised her since the age of six, and the initial chapters are quite slow while the scene is set for Tilly’s proposal from James and Sophie’s background in India is revealed. I would say Sophie gets more attention than Tilly does at this stage in the story, possibly because the mystery about her parents has to be established and then Sophie’s future relationship with Tam and his friends who will go on to have some influence on her future. Although Sophie falls in love with Tam, she is completely oblivious to the fact that his close friends, Boz and Rafi, are also in love with her. And to make sure no one is missing the point, Trotter does the unforgivable and starts head hopping between the characters so we are privy to their inner most thoughts even though it is completely unnecessary and downright irritating. Thankfully the head hopping is later kept to a minimum and eventually disappears altogether.
After the death of her aunt, Sophie talks Tam into marrying her despite reservations he may not reciprocate her feelings as deeply because Sophie is determined to go India where she believes she was the happiest. When Sophie finally arrives in India, Tam is already suffering from the fevers that will continue to plague him throughout his time there and despite a friendly warning that Tam has probably already given his heart to someone else, Sophie marries him regardless. As Sophie struggles to fit in with British society in Lahore, she soon realises she doesn’t like the rules and she doesn’t like how it is changing her husband, particularly in regard to his attitude towards, Rafi, who he treated as an equal back in Edinburgh but can’t quite do the same in India. As Sophie spends more time with Rafi, she realises she desires him more than she ever did Tam and her marriage has been a big mistake.
While Sophie is busy falling for another man, Tilly finds unexpected happiness with James and their marriage turns out to be far more passionate than either expected, however Tilly struggles to cope with life on his isolated plantation, especially after the birth of her son. When Tilly finally makes some new friends and spends the summer away from the plantation, she discovers the graves of Sophie’s parents and begins to do some research into their deaths. It is at this point that Tilly’s own story fades into the background as she becomes primarily focused on finding out the truth. As you would expect, the mystery is strung out to almost the very end but the revelations are worth it.
The biggest disappointment for me was the lack of focus on Sophie and Rafi as a couple as the author resorts to misunderstandings once more to keep them apart. By the time everything is resolved, the book is at an end and it is a real shame we don’t get to see how a mixed race couple copes with living in British governed India, particularly since Rafi is Muslim and his family seem quite strict. Politically, the climate in India is also changing and I suspect Sophie and her friends are going to have a hard time of it in the coming years.
As with The Tea Planter’s Daughter, the author does a great job of making you feel like you really are in the places she describes and I was so glad we ended up back in India. Since Sophie moves around a lot due to Tam’s job, we get to experience a wide variety of places from the stifling heat of Lahore, the snowdrifts of the Himalayas and the lush tea gardens of Assam. The second book in this series was far more cohesive then the first, and while the melodrama is still present, it is a little more tempered.