Title: Facing the Flame (Matilda Saga #7)
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 20th November 2017
Synopsis: There have been fires before, but not like this. Heartbreaking and powerful, FACING THE FLAME is a story of the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.
‘The perfect read for anyone who loves immersing themselves in Australian fiction. Gripping, emotional and moving, Facing the Flame is a great book to curl up with on a warm spring night.’ – New Idea
There have been fires before, but not like this.
In 1978, as the hot wind howls and the grass dries, all who live at Gibber’s Creek know their land can burn. But when you love your land, you fight for it.
For Jed Kelly, an even more menacing danger looms: a man from her past determined to destroy her. Finding herself alone, trapped and desperate to save her unborn child, Jed’s only choice is to flee – into the flames.
Heartbreaking and powerful, Facing the Flame celebrates the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it.
Seven books in, and the Matilda Saga is getting better with each book. From the late nineteenth century to 1979. From the slums of Grinder’s Alley to Gibber’s Creek, Moura and Drinkwater, the journey of young Matilda O’Halloren to find her father after her mother’s death is what kicked off this series, and the ongoing relationships between the families of Drinkwater, Overflow and Rocky Valley, the Thompsons, the Clancys, the McAlpines and the Macks have all watched seasons come and go, watched generations grow up, and new life enter the world. Picking up two years after If Blood Should Stain the Wattle, Facing the Flame opens with a wedding, and an announcement that will change Jed’s life forever. As her pregnancy progresses in its final days, Gibber’s Creek and the neighbouring areas become threatened by a devastating bushfire, and someone from Jed’s past determined to eke revenge and destroy her. With the life of her unborn baby at stake, and encouraging her sister Scarlett Kelly-O’Hara to head off into town to help those sheltering there after evacuation, Jed must flee into the flames, back towards her house as she tries to save two lives. As the fire eats away at the paddocks and earth, the community of Gibber’s Creek will not allow itself to be beaten. Regardless of age, gender and ability, these courageous women will fight to save their land.
Fire and the land are as much characters as the humans, and in many chapters, we end with the perspective of the fire as it ravages the land. It effectively sets the scene and you can feel the threat of the flames as they progress to their final fate towards the end of the book, where there are a few secrets left unsolved, and where there is hope for the future of Jed and her family.
Moura, Drinkwater, Dribble, Rocky Valley and Overflow are the key homes that have helped to link the series together, and link the families of these places together. A few books ago, we were introduced to River View, a rehabilitation place for disabled and ill children whose parents needed help, or where children like Scarlett would live, receiving specific care for disabilities that impacted their lives, but that the children, and Scarlett in particular, did not use to define themselves. Scarlett has come a long way since we first encountered her in Ghost by the Billabong, becoming independent and able to care for herself and live in the city to attend university. Now, River View is home to a few kids seeking specific help. Lu Borgino is blind, and feels at a loss for what she has been told or made to feel her life will become. But with the help of the Gibber’s Creek clan, she realises she can still achieve her dreams. It is characters like these girls that the Matilda Saga has given a voice to – the forgotten, the ones left out of history books.
Throughout the seven books, Jackie French’s main characters have been primarily women, who in each of their respective time periods, have faced different challenges and obstacles because of gender, or race – Aboriginal – Nancy Thompson, Chinese – Mah McAlpine, or disabled – Scarlett, and Lu. Each woman has had to fight against prejudices of gender and race, and sometimes poverty, to have their voices heard. These interlocking and diverse families provide an insight into the history that we are not taught in school, the history of those that are not often heard from, but might be heard about more – a carefully hidden history that would make any historical account richer and more interesting than what might be on offer. Jackie French has uncovered some of Australia’s secrets through fiction, raw and bare, and created a strength of character and story that anyone can relate to, even if they explore stories that can hurt and harm, we need to remember them.
As an author with a disability herself – dyslexia – Jackie’s passion in these characters having their voices heard and the lengths she goes to for accuracy and research is admirable. These lengths make the story all the more engaging and full of life. Flinty and Lu, who acquired their disabilities, have fought through – Flinty recovering (The Girl from Snowy River), and Lu learning what she is capable of, and learning new ways of seeing, show the power of the human spirit, as have characters climbing out of poverty – Matilda, and escaping abusive homes – Blue, Mah and Jed, not letting racism define her – Clancy and Mah, and, the irrepressible Scarlett, who refuses to let her disability rule her life, and pushes on towards doing what she dreams of doing. Even though Old Matilda is gone, her spirit remains, and is there to give her family a good kick into gear when they need it from the beyond.
Each of the first six books were based on a poem written by some of Australia’s best-known poets:
A Waltz for Matilda – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson
The Girl from Snowy River – The Man from Snowy River by Banjo Paterson
The Road to Gundagai – by Banjo Paterson
To Love a Sunburnt Country – My Country by Dorothea MacKellar
The Ghost by the Billabong – Waltzing Matilda by Banjo Paterson (links in with A Waltz for Matilda)
If Blood Should Stain the Wattle – Freedom on the Wallaby by Henry Lawson
The final book, Facing the Flame, includes a poem written by Jackie herself, titled A Land of Love and Flame, and can be found at the beginning of the book. In doing so, Jackie has tied each book to a tradition of Australian poetry, and taken the hidden stories of these poems and given them life. The latest book in the Matilda Saga ends on a note of mystery, that will hopefully be answered in the next one.