The most recommended books on the British Raj

Who picked these books? Meet our 28 experts.

28 authors created a book list connected to the British Raj, and here are their favorite British Raj books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of British Raj book?

Loading...

Boats on Land

By Janice Pariat,

Book cover of Boats on Land: A Collection of Short Stories

Venkataraghavan Subha Srinivasan Author Of The Origin Story of India's States

From the list on discovering a modern India you’ve never seen.

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by maps all my life. The map of India has always held special interest. As I’ve lived in different parts of India, I’ve seen firsthand how India is one country, but its stories are multiple. I chronicled India’s varied stories through the origins of each of its states. Similarly, I’ve curated a diverse and inclusive reading list. It covers different parts of the country and contains different types of books—graphic novel, travelog, memoir, and short story collections. The authors also cut across religion, gender, and social strata. I hope you discover a whole new India!

Venkataraghavan's book list on discovering a modern India you’ve never seen

Why did Venkataraghavan love this book?

I love how this short story collection traverses time but not locationthe setting is the northeastern state of Meghalaya while the stories span 150 years. In these fifteen tales, folklore mixes with modern life and myth is steeped in the mundane. The result? The reader journeys through a rich smorgasbord of a multi-faceted Meghalaya and its people. Given the tendency to clump the seven northeastern states together, this book helps us view one of those states distinctively.

By Janice Pariat,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Boats on Land as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Boats on Land is a unique way of looking at India’s northeast and its people against a larger historical canvas—the early days of the British Raj, the World Wars, conversions to Christianity, and the missionaries. This is a world in which the everyday is infused with folklore and a deep belief in the supernatural. Here, a girl dreams of being a firebird. An artist watches souls turn into trees. A man shape-shifts into a tiger. Another is bewitched by water fairies. Political struggles and social unrest interweave with fireside tales and age-old superstitions. Boats on Land quietly captures our fragile…


The Strangler Vine

By M.J. Carter,

Book cover of The Strangler Vine

Jyoti Guptara Author Of Fortune's Favor

From the list on Indian adventures with a multicultural cast.

Who am I?

My father hails from India, where my first book became a national bestseller when I was 17. My co-author Thomas Locke has written over a dozen thrillers and even more adventure novels. We are both fascinated by India as a land of endless contrasts. From its cuisine and customs to the diverse people and landscape, India can be overwhelming, but never boring. The ancient backdrop of beautiful buildings and interwoven histories whisper secrets and beckon for adventure. Both of us have visited over 40 countries and enjoy reading and writing about multicultural characters. Especially when they want to conquer or save the world!

Jyoti's book list on Indian adventures with a multicultural cast

Why did Jyoti love this book?

I love a Sherlock and Watson kind of relationship, and this one fit the early days of the British Raj perfectly. Two Brits in the employ of the East India Trading company who could not be more different. Avery is very much part of the system and eager to please. His mysterious guide, Jeremiah Blake, is critical of the Company and gets on far better with the wide cast of locals. I soaked up the historical setting, and the growing intrigue tided me over to the last third, which delivers everything you’d want in a historical thriller.

By M.J. Carter,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Strangler Vine as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in the untamed wilds of nineteenth-century colonial India, this dazzling historical thriller introduces Blake and Avery—an unforgettable investigative pair.

India, 1837: William Avery is a young soldier with few prospects except rotting away in campaigns in India; Jeremiah Blake is a secret political agent gone native, a genius at languages and disguises, disenchanted with the whole ethos of British rule, but who cannot resist the challenge of an unresolved mystery. What starts as a wild goose chase for this unlikely pair—trying to track down a missing writer who lifts the lid on Calcutta society—becomes very much more sinister as…


Bhowani Junction

By John Masters,

Book cover of Bhowani Junction

Annie Murray Author Of Letter from a Tea Garden

From the list on India under the Raj that are not about princesses.

Who am I?

Abi Oliver is a pen name as my real name is Annie Murray—I write under both names. My first book, A New Map of Love, set in the 1960s, featured an older woman who had been born in India. She developed into such a character—a bit of an old trout to be truthful—that I wanted to tell her story. It also tapped into my family’s many connections with India and the fact that I have travelled a lot there. I finally got to travel, with my oldest daughter, and stay in one of the tea gardens in Assam—a wonderful experience.

Annie's book list on India under the Raj that are not about princesses

Why did Annie love this book?

"India will sing like a bird out of its cage when she is free," says one of the characters in this wonderfully engaging book. Times of transition interest me and this book is set during the early part of Indian Independence, when everyone was trying to find a new identity and way of living, especially Victoria, one of the three main characters who is Eurasian, or as we would now say, mixed race. She is torn between the two sides of her heritage. Some of the language is shocking in our times but it is a fascinating story of people caught up in a country’s re-birth. It is also a tender love story. It’s a great way to get a feel of that period of upheaval.

By John Masters,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Bhowani Junction as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Bhowani Junction is set in the wake of the partition of India, as the British prepare to withdraw from the newly independent country. Evoking the tensions and conflicts that accompanied the birth of modern India, the characters struggle to find their place in the new India that is emerging. In the last hectic days of the British Raj, Victoria has to choose between marrying a British Army officer or a Sikh, Ranjit, as she struggles to find her place in the new, independent India.

One of John Masters' seven novels which followed several generations of the Savage family serving in…


Maria Murder and Suicide

By Verrier Elwin,

Book cover of Maria Murder and Suicide

Martin Daly Author Of Killing the Competition: Economic Inequality and Homicide

From the list on why people sometimes kill one another.

Who am I?

When my late wife Margo Wilson suggested, over 40 years ago, that we should study homicides for what they might reveal about human motives and emotions, her idea seemed zany. But when we plunged into police investigative files and homicide databases, we quickly realized that we had struck gold, and homicide research became our passion. Our innovation was to approach the topic like epidemiologists, asking who is likely to kill whom and identifying the risk factors that are peculiar to particular victim-killer relationships. What do people really care about? Surveys and interviews elicit cheap talk; killing someone is drastic action.  

Martin's book list on why people sometimes kill one another

Why did Martin love this book?

People share a complex core of humanity that transcends cultural differences. Rather than being incomprehensibly strange, the passions that move people in "exotic" societies are all too familiar. Compendia of homicide cases in tribal societies that are in many ways different from the one we inhabit support this claim, and my 5th pick is a particularly readable example. Anthropologist Verrier Elwin amassed court records on 107 homicides among the "Bison-Horn Maria" of central India in the first half of the 20th century. The Maria then lived as slash-and-burn horticulturalists and part-time hunter-gatherers, and were, like other "tribals," left to their own devices by the British Raj unless a violent death provoked state intervention. The killings described here are tragic, and the protagonists, though sparsely introduced, fully human.     

By Verrier Elwin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Maria Murder and Suicide as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After providing a brief sketch of Maria life and custom, Elwin goes on to examine the records of one hundred cases of murder and fifty cases of suicide, and finally makes valuable suggestions for improving the treatment of aboriginal in jail. The commonest motives for crime among the Bison-horn Maria were found to be sexual jealousy and resentment or shame caused by public rebuke; fatigue and the use of alcohol were also found to be factors.


A Passage to India

By E.M. Forster,

Book cover of A Passage to India

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni Author Of Independence

From the list on the many mysteries of India.

Who am I?

As a writer and a professor, I love sharing knowledge of my birth country (India) and the experiences of Indian immigrants in America. My first book, Arranged Marriage, is about the transformed lives of immigrant women and won an American Book Award. Mistress of Spices is about a spice-shop owner who knows magic, was a national bestseller, and became a film. One Amazing Thing is a multicultural novel about nine people trapped by an earthquake, was a Citywide Read in over 25 US cities. Recently, fascinated by the richness of Indian history, I have delved into it in novels like The Last Queen, set in the 1800s, and Independence, set in the 1940s. 

Chitra's book list on the many mysteries of India

Why did Chitra love this book?

Forster’s novel showed me the majesty and mystery of India at the height of British occupation. In delineating a complex friendship between an Englishman (Fielding) and an Indian (Aziz), it illustrated for me the difficulties of interracial relations at that time, even with the best of intentions. I love that the novel centers around a dramatic event in the Malabar Hills, a mystery that kept me guessing as to what really happened.

By E.M. Forster,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Passage to India as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set in British India in the 1920s, this book looks at racial conflict. The characters struggle to overcome their own differences and prejudices, but when the Indian Dr Aziz is tried for the alleged assault of Adela Quested even the strongest inter-racial friendships come under pressure.


Amphigorey Too

By Edward Gorey,

Book cover of Amphigorey Too

Landis Blair Author Of The Envious Siblings: and Other Morbid Nursery Rhymes

From the list on morbidly whimsical illustrated stories.

Who am I?

I am an illustrator of books, comics, and various other things, but no matter what I illustrate I can’t seem to keep a certain darkness out of my drawings. For most of my life I have been attracted to the macabre. This attraction first emerged out of fear but later out of amusement. It is rather comical to see the amount of effort people are willing to expend in order to avoid thinking and talking about death. I find it far more healthy to acknowledge it everywhere while simultaneously having a good chuckle.  

Landis' book list on morbidly whimsical illustrated stories

Why did Landis love this book?

It would be impossible to create a list of morbidly whimsical books without including Edward Gorey, the uncontested master in this realm. While virtually any of Gorey’s books could be added to this list, his Amphigorey treasuries are the most efficient way for new readers to browse through his books. Since I must make a choice, however, I am selecting Amphigorey Too since this was the volume that introduced me to Gorey’s work when I was seventeen. Furthermore, it also contains a couple of my favourite Gorey tales: The Beastly Baby and The Inanimate Tragedy.

By Edward Gorey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Amphigorey Too as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This follow-up to the darkly humorous Amphigorey is wittier, more macabre, and more wondrous than ever. Master illustrator and iconic gothic storyteller Edward Gorey gives his fans 20 more nonsensically and mind-bending tales that draw fans and unsuspecting newcomers into a world only he can create. Gorey’s pen-and-ink drawings spur the imagination and satisfy fans of art and the good storytelling. 
 
Some of the 20 stories in this collection include:
“The Beastly Baby”
“The Pious Infant” 
“The Evil Garden”
“The Inanimate Tragedy”
“The Osbick Bird”
“The Deranged Cousins” 
“The Abandoned Sock”
“Story for Sara”
“A Limerick”


Malgudi Days

By R. K. Narayan,

Book cover of Malgudi Days

Reenita Malhotra Hora Author Of Operation Mom: My Plan to Get My Mom a Life... and a Man

From the list on South Asian young adults.

Who am I?

I have a passion for this topic because I too am a South Asian author. I read these books to stay informed about the latest ideas shaping our understanding of the South Asian young adult, both within and outside of the geographical boundaries of South Asia. I want to see more stories out there with South Asian themes, characters, settings— contemporary stories in particular. I’d like to see South Asians in ordinary life and not stereotypical situations like The Indian Wedding. We have so many stories to tell! I hope you enjoy the books on this list as much as I have!

Reenita's book list on South Asian young adults

Why did Reenita love this book?

It is hard to say whether the stories of Malgudi Days are for children or adults. R.K. Narayan, the pioneer of early Indian literature in English, has written a series of delightful books based upon a fictional village called Malgudi. This first one is a collection containing 32 short stories, a series of lovable characters. I especially love how he portrays the teen angst of characters like Iswaren, Ramu, and Sambu whose lives determined by passing exams, are so far from the lives of South Asian teens in the West. Unlike today’s stories with pacing and riveting plots, this one is a lesson in slowing down to take a deep and close examination of Indian rural life, particularly for these young adults in Malgudi.

By R. K. Narayan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Malgudi Days as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Introducing this collection of stories, R. K. Narayan describes how in India 'the writer has only to look out of the window to pick up a character and thereby a story'. Malgudi Days is the marvellous result. Here Narayan portrays an astrologer, a snake-charmer, a postman, a vendor of pies and chappatis - all kinds of people, drawn in full colour and endearing domestic detail. And under his magician's touch the whole imaginary city of Malgudi springs to life, revealing the essence of India and of human experience.


The Forge (The Raj Whitehall Series

By S. M. Stirling, David Drake,

Book cover of The Forge (The Raj Whitehall Series: The General, Book 1)

Eric Thomson Author Of Imperial Sunset

From the list on the rise, fall, and rebirth of galactic empires.

Who am I?

Science fiction has always been a passion of mine and, paradoxically, so has history. I lost count long ago of how many historical treatises and historical fiction books I’ve read alongside the science fiction classics, especially those with a military flavor. I was also an Army officer, both regular and reserve, for most of my adult life, and gleefully tore through the recommended Army reading list, much of which focused on military history. Combining my interest in history with my military experience and my love for science fiction led me to create a future universe where empires rise, grow old, and collapse only to be reborn and repeat the cycle.

Eric's book list on the rise, fall, and rebirth of galactic empires

Why did Eric love this book?

This series, to my mind, epitomizes the idea of a gradual rebirth after a galactic civilization collapses, leaving humans stranded on countless worlds with varying degrees of technology. I found the way in which Drake approaches said rebirth incredibly fascinating as well as entertaining, by using sentient artifacts of the long-vanished empire to guide humans back to the stars. And, as a dog lover, I really enjoyed him using oversized canines instead of horses for his pre-industrial cavalry.

Book cover of The Sun in the Morning

Annie Murray Author Of Letter from a Tea Garden

From the list on India under the Raj that are not about princesses.

Who am I?

Abi Oliver is a pen name as my real name is Annie Murray—I write under both names. My first book, A New Map of Love, set in the 1960s, featured an older woman who had been born in India. She developed into such a character—a bit of an old trout to be truthful—that I wanted to tell her story. It also tapped into my family’s many connections with India and the fact that I have travelled a lot there. I finally got to travel, with my oldest daughter, and stay in one of the tea gardens in Assam—a wonderful experience.

Annie's book list on India under the Raj that are not about princesses

Why did Annie love this book?

M.M Kaye was best known for her blockbuster The Far Pavilions. This beautifully written book, however, is a first volume of memoir—another record of a European child in India. Having travelled there a lot myself and had a family relative close to me in age grew up in the tea gardens there, I have long wondered what that experience was like, quite apart from the politics of whether we should have been there or not. Kaye’s childhood eye describes her upbringing in Shimla in the Himalayan foothills as well as Delhi, before her inevitable banishment to cold England. The book has a sunlit feel to it and it full of vivid detail and fond memories of this childhood caught between two worlds. 

By M.M. Kaye,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sun in the Morning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Sun in the Morning is the first volume of autobiography by the beloved British author M. M. Kaye. It traces the author's early life in India and later adolescence in England. As The Guardian wrote, "No romance in the novels of M.M. Kaye... could equal her love for India."

" … [Kaye's] kaleidoscopic story of a long-lost innocence just before and after World War I helps to explain Kaye's idealization of the British Raj and her love for Kipling's verse." - Publishers Weekly


The Satapur Moonstone

By Sujata Massey,

Book cover of The Satapur Moonstone

Melissa Yi Author Of Code Blues

From the list on smart women who kick ass.

Who am I?

I love to read and write about strong women. I don't necessarily mean gunning down aliens while wearing tight pants. Those books can be good too, but let's be honest, tight pants encourage yeast infections. I prefer books where women handle anything from murder to wayward cats with intelligence and compassion, while wearing whatever they want. The women, I mean. Cats already figured out to skip the pants.

Melissa's book list on smart women who kick ass

Why did Melissa love this book?

What if you wanted to practice law in India in 1922?

Women weren't allowed in court, but Perveen Mistry becomes a solicitor instead, working behind the scenes on wills and estate files. Perveen's gender becomes an asset when she can speak to women in purdah, a practice where women seclude themselves from men in some Muslim or Hindu communities.

I liked the first book, The Widows of Malabar Hill, but truly enjoyed The Satapur Moonstone, where Perveen heads out to the Sahyadri mountains to help a royal family after the maharaja has died and the crown prince is too young to rule.

In addition to the mystery, and learning about the history of India, I could hear the buzz of mosquitoes, the tree frogs peeping, and the hooting of owls, as well as imagine the tigers and leopards in the jungle.

By Sujata Massey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Satapur Moonstone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Vivid and clever...love her to bits.' Kerry Greenwood, bestselling author of the Miss Phryne Fisher series

The delightfully clever Perveen Mistry, Bombay's first female lawyer, returns in an adventure of treacherous intrigues and suspicious deaths.

India, 1922: It is rainy season in the lush, remote Sahyadri Mountains southeast of Bombay, where the kingdom of Satapur is tucked away. A curse has fallen upon Satapur's royal family, whose maharaja and his teenage son are both dead. The kingdom is now ruled by an agent of the British Raj on behalf of Satapur's two maharanis, the dowager queen and the maharaja's widow.…