Title: Night Ride into Danger
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 5th May 2021
Synopsis: Six mysterious passengers and seven dark secrets. Who can be trusted?
It’s a dark and dangerous journey for the Cobb and Co night mail coach, but when his coach-driver father is injured, young Jem Donovan must take the reins.
Surely a boy like Jem can’t handle a team of four horses and guide the coach on a rough bush track through fog and untold dangers?
But there are six passengers on the coach tonight, each with a secret.
And if Jem can’t get them all to their destination by morning, the seventh secret could be deadly …
This is the third Jackie French book I’ve been sent to review this year, and I marvel at her ability to write so many different stories for vastly different audiences, and set in very different times throughout Australian history, with a diverse range of characters that expand upon what we know about Australian history, and uncover some of the lesser-known stories, people and facts that in my experience, were not taught at school. Night Ride into Danger is the latest in this type of story, giving insight into class, racism and the immigrant experience.
Jem and Paw Donovan run a Cobb and Co night mail run, and are headed to Goulburn with six passengers, and all have their secrets: Mr Lee Chou, a Chinaman who isn’t what he seems. The Pickles – desperate to get to Goulburn by the next day – both Mr and Mrs Pickles are hiding something that might delay the journey. Juanita and Señorita Rodriques – two Spanish sisters, travelling around New South Wales performing flamenco dancing – but who are they really, and what are they hiding that could endanger them? And Mr Smith has a large chest of books, though there is something about him that felt out of place – another secret. But there is a seventh secret – and the person with this secret will surprise them all as the secrets come out during the journey when the unthinkable happens, and Jem must ride four in hand after his father is injured in an accident. Can Jem get everyone to their destination safely? And which passenger will pose the greatest threat?
In true Jackie French style, she brings the diversity of Australia, our history and multitude of voices to life through her vibrant, diverse and exciting cast of characters, starting with Jem and Juanita, our two child protagonists who drive much of the narrative, and understandings of communication. It is the tragic accident that truly brings these people together – in a way that I felt evoked the Australian nature of helping each other, and I came to the realisation that I could not choose my favourite character, because they were all so fabulous and fun. Jem and Juanita were very powerful voices, and the discussions had about race and culture used words that in the 1870s were, as Jackie mentions in her author’s note, the language used back then. Yet she tempered it with the personality and nature of acceptance of our coach passengers as they learned to work together and find a way through the tragedy and fear that they were all feeling. She allowed them to be who they were, even if they had to keep their secrets, and shows through this book and her many others like it, that Australia has always been diverse, even if some don’t recognise it.
Jackie always puts author’s notes in the back of her books about the history, the people and various aspects of the story to deepen our understanding of the context. This allows for these books to contribute to a larger discussion and sit within an Australian literary and educational context to bring new ideas into the classroom, but also our own reading. I have learned so many things from reading Jackie French books that have sent me down research rabbit holes when I’ve been looking for something else – no regrets though!
This is another Jackie French book that will be devoured by fans of Jackie French and historical fiction. Each book she writes has something new to teach us, and shows the importance of giving everyone a voice.