Filippo has never met his father. Before he was born, his father, a jeweller, travelled to the court of the Great Moghul Emperor Shan Jehan. Twelve years later, a stranger, Signor Khan, arrives bringing a message. His father is held captive by the bandit Mir Baba and only the most valuable jewel, his masterpiece The Ocean of the Moon is worth enough to raise the ransom. Filippo must go with the stranger, into the foreign lands, to sell the jewel to Shah Jehan. But he goes with a secret: he is carrying a copy of the jewel, the real diamond is sewn into his scalp, beneath his hair. They are attacked almost as soon as they set out on their journey. The fake jewel is taken, and Filippo discovers Khan has betrayed him - he knew all along about the real jewel. They travel on to the Emperor's court, where Khan tries to force Filippo to sell the jewel to the Grand Vizier, and Prince Aurangzeb puts him under house arrest. But when Filippo manages to meet Shah Jehan, the Emperor is delighted with The Ocean of the Moon and the plan of the Grand Vizier, in the pay of Aurangzeb, is thwarted. But these are dangerous men who will not give up.
As Filippo and Khan travel into Afghanistan, bandits in the pay of Aurangzeb attack, kill Khan and Filippo flees for his life. Reaching the bandit stronghold, Filippo can only trade a small ring for his father, but it is enough. But worse is to come. His father has been driven mad by his captivity and dies on the journey home. Filippo is embittered, but finds his sadness healed when, years later, he returns to Hindustan with his brother. The Taj Mahal is a replica of The Ocean of the Moon, their father's work has not been in vain.
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What Reviewers Are Saying
A splendid tale of intrigue and betrayal, told by Filippo, youngest son of Geronimo Veronese, Venetian jeweller, traveller to the court of the Mogul Emperor Shah Jehan and reputed designer of the Taj Mahal. Geronimo has been captured during his attempts to find his way home and his family must stake a high ransom, a priceless jewel. Only Filippo can carry the jewel to Afghanistan, and only he knows that the stone which draws such admiration is in fact a fake - the real diamond is stitched to his scalp. Accompanying Filippo is the Musulman who first told the family that his father was alive but captured. The Musulman is a trader in whom treachery and strange loyalty are hard to distinguish, until the man's own tragedy is revealed. A long journey via the court of the Emperor ensues, in which danger lurks, bandits raid and princes demand obeisance. Eventually, after a sojourn in the palace not knowing whether he is guest or prisoner, and a journey across the Khyber Pass uncertain whether his companions are comrades or conspirators, Filippo finds and ransoms his father. The meeting is poignant - the old man mistakes Filippo for a dead older brother - and the victory sour. After his years of imprisonment, the father once escaped is clearly a broken, demented old man, who yearns to see Venice again but makes it only as far as Lahore. The jewel too brings no comfort to the Emperor, although when Filippo returns to Hindustan 20 years later, it is clear that its beauty has been translated into something more enduring. This easy-to-read story is a surefire winner with children, marred only by slight implausibilities of language - would a 17th-century Venetian jeweller really have described a diamond's dimensions in millimetres? Yet such small quibbles are easily compensated for by the fascination of the story and the quality of the writing - haunting and compelling. Ages 8-11 (Kirkus UK)