Vikramjit Ram’s novella Mansur re-imagines life amongst artists working in the imperial atelier of Mughal India. The emperor Jahangir had a deep interest in flora and fauna and dispatched agents far and wide to acquire exotic creatures that may delight him. It was the imperial painter, Mansur who was credited with capturing the sensitivity of these creatures. Such was the admiration of his works that the title “Rarity of the Present” was bestowed upon Mansur by the emperor.

Long unavailable, Rohit Manchanda’s newly reissued A Speck of Coal Dust won the Betty Trask Award when it was first published (under a different titles) a generation ago. It takes place in the kingdom of childhood, not however to be confused with that of innocence. In this world, everything can be—and is meant to be—explored and experienced. A flower cannot be marvelled at; it must be touched. A snake cannot be avoided; it must be prodded. The result is a bildungsroman that is starkly refreshing, adding depth to a period and place relatively ignored in literature.

“Historians are stuck with the evidence, novelists can describe what actually happened,” says the French writer, Jean-Félix de la Ville Beaugé. In Firestorm in Paradise, historian Rana Safvi switches roles from the constraints of the former to the imagination of the latter. In her history of Mughal Delhi, Shahjahanabad, published in 2019, she meticulously retraces the topography of the city, uncovering remains of their long-forgotten kiosks and gardens. Now as a novelist, she populates those stone remnants with people, smells, songs and sights, bringing back life as it must have been to Old Delhi.

Almost a hundred years ago, Agatha Christie published an Hercule Poirot mystery, Death in the Air, which takes place on a flight from Paris to London. It may not be her most famous, but debut author Ram Murali has recycled the title for his whodunnit set mainly in the foothills of the Himalayas near Rishikesh—where the Beatles studied meditation—but also in small parts in London, Paris, and Bermuda.

Some 140,000 men were recruited from China during the Great War by the Allied Forces. Their mission was not to fight but to labour on the front lines. In exchange, they would (in theory) receive a salary and decent rations. The unsung heroes of the Chinese Labour Corps, whose contribution to the First World War has been mostly overlooked by historians, are given their due recognition in this touching third novel from bilingual writer, Fan Wu.