Title: No Hearts of Gold
Author: Jackie French
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 1st December 2021
Synopsis: SOME GIRLS ARE BORN TO BE LOVED,
SOME ARE BORN TO BE USEFUL,
AND SOME ARE BORN TO BE BAD …
Indulged and wealthy Kat Fitzhubert is sold in an arranged marriage to a colony across the world. Lady Viola Montefiore is the dark-skinned changeling of a ducal family, kept hidden and then shipped away. Titania Boot is as broad as a carthorse, and as useful.
On the long sea voyage from their homeland of England, these three women are fast bonded in an unlikely friendship. In the turmoil of 1850s Australia – which has reinvented itself from convict colony to a land of gold rushes and illusive riches – one woman forges a business empire, while another turns to illegal brewery, working alongside a bushranger as the valleys around her are destroyed. The third vanishes on her wedding day, in a scandal that will intrigue and mystify Sydney’s polite society and beyond.
In this magnificent and broad-sweeping saga, award-winning author Jackie French defies the myth of colonial women as merely wives, servants, petty thieves or whores. Instead, in this masterful storyteller’s hands, these three women will be arbiters of a destiny far richer than the bewitching glitter and lure of gold.
No Hearts of Gold is Jackie French’s latest, and takes place during colonial times, in the tumultuous 1850s – a time of gold rushes, bushrangers, and scandals, and women who find ways to forge their own fates in a hostile environment and a society that underestimates women. Meet Kat Fitzhubert, Lady Viola Montefiore, and Titania Boot – who don’t fit into proper English society, and whose families have chosen new fates for them in a colony halfway around the world. But when they arrive in Australia, they encounter very different fates. One is whisked away by a new husband who disappears, and so, she must create an illegal brewery and work with a bushranger. Another is destined to wed someone of her guardian’s choosing but disappears on the day of her wedding – creating more scandal for her family, furthering the scandal linked to her birth. And for the third, she must find a way to make her own fortunes. But the three are firm friends and would do anything to help each other – even if it means acts of trickery and scandal that are beyond the reproach of the law.
Any new Jackie French book is met with excitement, and I read as many as I can, especially her historical fiction novels. She captures the untold stories, particularly of women, eloquently and with great heart. Using what we know, Jackie expands on this to show that not all women were dutiful wives or doing nothing but popping out babies in colonial times and indeed throughout history in Australia. Instead, she allows the women to have their own voices and destinies and shows what many women did through her fictional characters. It allows readers to see Australian history – Australian history from 1788 onwards at least – in a different way to what we are taught at school. Jackie strives to have a diverse cast of characters, and I think this is what makes her books so effective. They have different backgrounds, heritages, and personalities, and this all makes the story powerful and ensures that the voices from the past are not forgotten or hidden away, that we can learn about more than what textbooks teach us.
No Hearts of Gold has echoes of Jackie’s previous work yet is its own entity. The characters are all flawed in some way – whether they see it themselves or it is a flaw that society sees and has ensured they know about. Yet the three women are united in their desire to see justice done, and have their voices heard. I got the feeling that whilst in some ways they were willing to abide by societal expectations, in other ways, they were keen to be themselves and forge their own paths, even if that path was forged for them out of a necessity to survive their harsh new home. These characters showed what it was like, and how different people coped with very different situations. But they also had their secrets – and there was an element of mystery that illustrated how far some people will go to protect and help friends, and the lies they will tell to ensure secrets are kept and the truth doesn’t come out.
I loved reading this book and think that Jackie captures something new in each book and series she writes for all ages from her picture books to her adult novels. At the heart is Australia and how it has been formed – at least since 1788 and the role that all people played in creating Australia. It is a book filled with heart that speaks to a universal need to protect your friends, and to create your own life – to not fight what you are given, but to work with it. It holds a special place in the Jackie French catalogue, as I think it brings so much of what she has written in other books together about female friendship and the role of women in creating a nation, and it allows us to understand what people came from, what they worked with and the differences they brought to Australia that started to form communities. It also speaks to identity and destiny – and what we sometimes have to do to find that for ourselves rather than going along with what others want for us.
Another great Jackie French book!