Somewhere in my middle teens, I purchased a paperback novel at my local drugstore. It was the mid-1980s, the era of the sweeping romantic historical saga, and the book is packaged something like a bodice-ripper, with a clutching couple and a gold-embossed title strewn across its cover.
But what I discovered inside was so much more. Zemindar by Valerie Fitzgerald is an absorbing, well-researched historical novel set in 1850s India. I still have that paperback and have re-read it several times over the years, and I'm always struck by how good it is. For whatever reason, as far as I've been able to tell Valerie Fitzgerald, never wrote another book, which was always a great disappointment to me.
Minus the Gothic trappings, the central love story has a bit of a Jane Eyre feel, involving a plain, overlooked young woman and a somewhat older man with a past. All the characters are well-drawn and psychologically believable, and the story provides ample opportunities for action, adventure, and suspense. It has similar appeal to Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series (minus the time travel and explicit sex).
The novel appears to have been well-reviewed when it was first published, but perhaps it didn't sell well, which might explain why Fitzgerald stopped writing. In the era of e-books, I'm glad to see it's been made available again, and readers have re-discovered it. On Goodreads it has 75 reviews and 627 ratings, averaging 4.14 stars.