Shadows in the Snow is an intriguing book filled with a certain air of mystery, even though there is no suspense on the surface as such. The atmosphere of Darjeeling created by the author captures the essence of those hills perfectly. The descriptions of waterfalls and tea gardens, roses and valleys, snow-capped Himalayan peaks, bus routes and railway tracks, all create a vivid image of the beauty of that hill- station. The natural surroundings and climatic conditions of the area like mist and clouds, rain and snow are described beautifully with the changing seasons and the impact of the weather on the living conditions and the life of the people creates apt narrative parallels. The way the author incorporates nearby Buddhist monasteries with their monks, flags, prayer wheels and chants of Om Mani Padme Hum create a tranquil aura of spirituality as well.
The book is set in the boarding house of Villa Alpina, owned by a self-proclaimed Englishwoman called Madam, who is very much Indian, but refers to dinner as supper and calls a raincoat a mackintosh. The book is filled with such quirky side characters who play the important role of Vandana’s makeshift family. Vandana is our teenaged protagonist, who works at the boarding house as Villa Alpina’s ‘parlour maid’ and helps her Madam with innumerable day-to-day tasks. She is an orphan who was left behind after her mother died and throughout the book, she is left with a feeling of loneliness. The melancholia surrounding Vandana is an almost constant companion. The moments when Vandana is truly happy are certainly to be cherished and feel monumental to her and to the reader. The different guests, workers and friends who come and go at the Villa make for an interesting set of people to read about.
Temporary guests are common during the tourist season and permanent guests are regular inhabitants. The people Vandana meets include her only friend Kancha who studies at a school and shares the things he learns with her, Itsy, Bitsy and Teeni, three girls who befriend Vandana for a fortnight, Mr Bose or Aneesh Uncle who really sees the potential in Vandana and wants her to learn, grow and to be herself, who is immensely kind to her and enjoys her companionship and finally, Miss Millie who comes to visit with an adorable puppy Nibbler.