After the Second World War, Libby Robson leaves chilly England for India, and the childhood home where she left her heart—and her beloved father, James—fourteen years ago.
At first Libby is intoxicated by India’s vibrant beauty: the bustle of Calcutta, the lush tea gardens of Assam. But beneath the surface a rebellion is simmering: India is on the brink of Independence, and the days of British rule are numbered. As the owner of a tea plantation, James embodies the hated colonial regime, and Libby finds herself questioning her idealised memories—particularly when she meets the dashing freedom fighter Ghulam Khan.
As Independence looms, life in India becomes precarious for Libby, James and even Ghulam. And when James reveals a shameful family secret, Libby is forced to question her past—and her future.
The Secrets of the Tea Garden is the fourth in the India Tea series and it shifts focus to Libby Robson, the daughter of James and Tilly Robson who were secondary characters in The Tea Planter’s Bride.
Libby, who was born in India, has spent most of her life in England due to boarding school and the Second World War, but she has never forgotten her childhood at the Oxford Estates and longs to see her father again. Libby’s idyllic memories of India are severely put to the test when she finally returns home as independence is looming and the talk of Partition is leading to violence between the different religions. It is the build up to independence that saves this novel because the rest of the storylines are frankly repeats of what we’ve read in the previous books. A lot of characters from the previous three books make an appearance as independence affects all of them in different ways and the tangled relationships will be hard to follow if you haven’t read the previous instalments.
Libby falls in love with Ghulam Khan, the rebellious brother of Rafi from The Tea Planter’s Bride, who hates the idea of Partition and wants to keep India together. The interracial romance has already been explored between Rafi and Sophie so we are retreading old ground here but the imminent Partition adds a new layer of danger since Ghulam is Muslim. Sadly, Ghulam and Libby are apart for the majority of the novel because there are way too many other threads being explored and the focus ends up on other people.
Away from India, the attention is on Adela who has returned to Newcastle to run the family tea room, however her real agenda is to track down the son she had to give up. I really did not like Adela in The Girl from the Tea Garden and this novel does nothing to endear her further. Adela is so obsessed with finding John Wesley, she almost destroys her marriage and gives no thought to the potential harm she may be doing her son. There are far too many coincidences occurring too and the outcome is totally predictable.
The worst part of the novel for me though was the background story involving Libby’s father, James, who has been estranged from the rest of the family due to the Second World War. James’s health has been declining in recent weeks due to a troubled conscience over something he was forced to do as a young man. The truth is only revealed towards the end of the novel by which time I didn’t care because it was so obvious we were being treated to yet another secret about a child’s paternity and it’s getting old. The addition of this storyline was completely unnecessary as there was enough going on with Libby and Adela.
I probably wouldn’t have continued with this series if it hadn’t been for the fact they are available on Kindle Unlimited.