Cartland, Barbara. (1976). Fragrant Flower. London: Pan.

The novel is prefaced with references to the history of Hong Kong during the 1880s, the period in which the novel is set. The novel itself is littered with evidence of the sort of research based mainly on the memoirs of retired colonials.

Azalea is the daughter of a Russian mother and British father who was an officer in the military in India. The father was accidentally killed by his colonel whilst trying to stop the  colonel beating and raping a young Indian girl.  Azalea becomes the ward of her wicked aunt and uncle, General Sir Frederick, who forbids Azalea from ever marrying lest the shaming secret of her father’s death be known. Sir Frederick and his wife have two pretty but gormless daughters whom the parents want to set up with the dashing Lord Sheldon. At a party, Sheldon meets Azalea and is bemused and bewitched by her. Sir Frederick is then sent to Hong Kong. On the boat out,  Sheldon and Azalea meet again; they have a brief passionate embrace but otherwise she manages to avoid him.  Azalea also makes friends with a Chinese woman, Kai Yin Chang, and they teach each other their languages. Kai Yin Chang is married to a very wealthy intelligent older man.

In Hong Kong, Azalea sneaks out to see Kai Yin Chang who dresses Azalea in Chinese clothes. Despite her “disguise”, Sheldon recognises Azalea and  professes his undying love for her. She protests, remembering her uncle’s stricture. On a junk-trip with the Changs, Azalea is  captured by pirates. However, as luck would have it, Sheldon is also at sea with some navy boys. Seeing the Changs’ junk torched, they give chase and take the pirate ship, rescuing Kai Yin, Azalea, and also Mr. Chang and his crew.  

Sheldon declares to Sir Frederick his intention to marry Azalea. The uncle’s response is  to horsewhips Azalea until she agrees to write a letter declining Sheldon. Azalea is then sent to a nunnery in Macao where she is kept in solitary confinement for a week. She is rescued, at the instigation of Mr. Chang, by a Chinese bank robber who is also an expert in storm-water drains. Sheldon then sails away with her to Singapore where he is friendly with the bishop with the now untrammelled intention of marriage. In this Cinderella story, readers of Barbara Cartland will recognize all their favourite ingredients reassembled in an exotic setting.  (KB)


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