For its British population, the India that swelters in the late spring of 1857 is a place of amateur theatricals, horseracing and flirtations under the aegis of the powerful East India company. Not long arrived in this exotic colony is pretty Sophi Hardcastle, newly married but already disillusioned enough with her soldier husband to have fallen under the spell of a dashing and mysterious lieutenant, Bruce Farquhar. But a brutal awakening lies in store for the complacent British: one May night, after 30 years of abuse, the East India Company's native soldiers rise against their British officers. Thus begins the most savage episode in our imperial history.
In the chaos that follows the uprising, Sophie's infant son Stephen becomes one of a dwindling band of lost children wandering the war-torn plains in the care of the Hardcastles' desperate native maid, Lavanya. As Sophie and her friend Catherine search for their children they find themselves bearing appalled witness to atrocities on both sides, including the massacre of British women and children in Cawnpore and the hideous reprisals that follow.
Moving, sombre and thrilling, Rathbone's tale is told on a grand scale, ranging from the Cannings in Government House to the heroism of the humblest soldiers and peasants. It is as exhilarating as any Victorian adventure story, and yet, with its unflinching examination of religious fanaticism and the horrors of war, The Mutiny also carries a powerful message for the modern world.