The publishers have done this book a disservice in calling it a "rip-roaring caper". True, it has lots of fast-moving drama but it also has a carefully researched setting in early Victorian India, where the East India Company, backed up by the British army, controls much of the sub-continent.
There are some characters you might recognise from genre fiction – the young lieutenant, the disdainful beauty, the mysterious Indian – but they are woven into a plot that lays bare some very unattractive features of the Raj, an era that has been romanticised in popular literature. At this point in the 1840s, an earlier respect for Indian culture has been replaced by a brutal imperialism.
William Avery is a naive lieutenant sent to find Xavier Mountstuart, India expert and novelist, who has disappeared into the jungle.
Carter gives us delicious descriptions of the wonderful court of a raja, where elephants are adorned with golden chains. There are horrors too, including famine amid dazzling wealth.
But ever onwards through the jungle presses the gallant young Avery, encountering treachery and violence, before finally triumphing after many perils as a hero should.
It's a great read, white tigers and all.