The Siege of Krishnapur is an allegorical novel that follows the lives of British colonists under siege by Indian nationals during the Indian Rebellions of 1857. The various villagers represent different branches of colonial philosophy, with some believing that the Indians would be better off without the yoke of British rule while others believe firmly in the progress-based and racist ideals of Victorian England. The colonists are reduced to ever lower states of privation by the siege.
The story is set in the fictional town of Krishnapur and tells of a besieged British garrison which holds out for four months against an army of native sepoys. Among the community are the Collector, who is an extremely Victorian believer in progress and father of small children and who can often be found daydreaming of the Great Exhibition; the Magistrate a Chartist in his youth but who sees his youthful political ideals destroyed by witnessing the siege; Dr Dunstaple and Dr McNab who row over the best way to treat cholera; Fleury, a poetical young man from England who learns to become a soldier and Lucy a "fallen" woman rescued from a bungalow who eventually runs a tea salon in the despairing community.
By the end of the novel cholera, starvation and the sepoys have killed off most of the inhabitants, who are reduced to eating dogs, horses and finally beetles, their teeth much loosened by scurvy. "The final retreat of the British, still doggedly stiff-upper-lipped through the pantries, laundries, music rooms and ballroom of the residency, using chandeliers and violins as weapons, is a comic delight".
The Siege of Krishnapur is part of Farrell's "Empire Trilogy", which concerns the British Empire and its decline in three locations. Other books in the series are Troubles , about the Easter 1916 rebellion in Ireland, and The Singapore Grip , which takes place just before the invasion of Singapore by the Japanese in World War II, during the last days of the British Empire.