Title: The Angel of Waterloo
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2nd December 2020
Synopsis: The powerful new novel from master storyteller Jackie French
The soldiers she saved called her the Angel of Waterloo.
The husband she loved and lost called her Hen.
The patients she treated in secret called her Auntie Love.
She was Henrietta Bartlett, a surgeon’s daughter, a survivor of the Napoleonic Wars. But now the battlefield is just a blood-soaked memory, and Hen dreams of peace, a home, and a society that allows women to practise medicine.
On the other side of the world, the newly founded colony of New South Wales seems a paradise. But Europe’s wars cast long shadows …
From bestselling author Jackie French comes the story of one woman’s journey from the hell of Waterloo to colonial Australia, where she can forge her own dreams in a land of many nations.
Hen has spent her whole life on battlefields, helping her mother, and now her father, care for the wounded soldiers. In 1812, she is fifteen, and at Waterloo during the Napoleonic Wars when she meets Max. They meet each other, marry, and lose each other on the same day – when a cannon takes out the hospital they are in. Hen spends time in mourning, first for Max, and then her father – before she finds out that Max is alive, that they have both been lied to, and Max is halfway around the world in the new colony called New South Wales – eighty odd years prior to the nation becoming a Federated nation.
Hen begins treating patients in secret, and is known as Auntie Love. She begins to forge her own path, and her own destiny on the Peninsular with the convicts she chooses to employ, some from Waterloo, and the Indigenous people she seeks to protect.
As Hen fights to overcome all kinds of prejudice, and fights to maintain her home and identity, she wonders if she truly belongs with Max – or if her new country is her true love. The shadows of Europe’s wars have followed her and perhaps foreshadow the wars that are to come. It is a love story to a nation and the people that built it – those who were already here, those forced to come here and those who chose to come. The attitudes of the time are captured in a way that illustrates what it was like, but also, show the disgust that characters like Hen feels as she grows and changes, and the ways she learns about Indigenous lore and the importance of finding ways to incorporate that with what she knows.
Jackie has dedicated this book to lovers of the Matilda Saga, and this lovely indication of things to come shows the power of her books for readers. The stories that capture the lives of those ignored or overlooked, or glossed over in history books, and the women who drove so much change over time.
Jackie French is one of Australia’s master storytellers, particularly when it comes to the stories of Australia, and the stories of those that the official record might not always tell us about. This is what I love about her books, all of the ones I have and that I have read. She makes history accessible and alive through characters like Hen and Matilda, through Nancy and Auntie Love – all those beloved characters who are the voices of the unheard.
Hen’s story is one of the powerful stories of women, from a time when she was meant to be meek and follow what her husband or father said. It sits freshly alongside all of Jackie’s other books – many of which I have and have been reading on and off for twenty-one years. Her older works hold up just as well as the newer ones, and each gives layers to Australian history and literature, which is something that I love about this book, and Jackie’s other books. Even if they are not directly linked, there is a sense of them being interconnected – either through characters, times, places or the plain and simple fact that women and women’s stories are centred in all of these books.
This is the kind of book that you just need to read and take in. It pulls you in and makes you confront things like prejudice and racism, and shows that even one person can make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than themselves, and begin to change society for the better.
A fabulous book from Jackie French, and out just in time for Christmas!