11. Kay Kenyon, A Thousand Perfect Things
I really wanted to love this alternative history novel dramatizing the tensions between England and its Indian colony (here, Bharata). And there were things I did love, starting with the gorgeous cover and the clever heroine, Tori Harding, who wants nothing so much as to follow in her famous botanist grandfather's footsteps. In particular, she's drawn to the intersection of science and magic in the famed golden lotus--a Bharatan flower that most people believe doesn't exist, but Tori has seen proof of (proof that her grandfather smuggled out of Bharata years ago). When a series of strange magical attacks prompts increased English forces in Bharata, Tori follows her military father to Bharata and is increasingly drawn to the strange and beautiful world.
Kenyon has set up some fascinating, complex worlds here--her depiction of the magic system in Bharata was compelling and I enjoyed the contrast between the science-driven Brits and their magic-driven counterparts. But I didn't end up loving the plot, which didn't seem to guarantee protection for the characters I cared about (I was surprised by more than one death through the course of the story--I know this isn't a bad thing, it was just a development that kept me from loving the story). And Tori herself had some quirks I had a hard time buying. My biggest issue? For a well-bred Victorian woman, Tori was surprisingly quick to adopt the more lax sexual mores of her more experienced older friend on the trip to Bharata. It's not that I don't think such a transition is possible--I know it is--it was only that her change in thinking and behavior was so quick and thorough that it was hard for me to credit.