The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

bedlam stacks.jpg

Title: The Bedlam Stacks

Author: Natasha Pulley

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

Published: 1st August, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: An astonishing historical novel set in the shadowy, magical forests of South America, which draws on the captivating world of the international bestseller The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

Deep in uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a forest. The shrine statues move, and anyone who crosses the border dies. But somewhere inside are cinchona trees, whose bark yields quinine: the only known treatment for malaria.

On the other side of the Pacific, it is 1859 and India is ravaged by the disease. The hunt for a reliable source of quinine is critical and in its desperation, the India Office searches out its last qualified expeditionary. Struggling with a terrible injury from his last mission and the strange occurrences at his family’s ruined estate, Merrick Tremayne finds himself under orders to bring back cinchona cuttings at any cost and dispatched, against his own better judgement, to Bedlam.

There he meets Raphael, a priest around whom the villagers spin unsettlingly familiar stories of impossible disappearances and living stone. Gradually, he realises that Raphael is the key to a legacy left by two generations of Tremayne explorers before him, one which will prove more dangerous and valuable than the India Office could ever have imagined.

~*~

Ex- East India smuggler, Merrick Tremayne is at home in Cornwall, recovering from an injury to his leg that inhibits activity for him when the India Office contacts him about an expedition to Peru to fetch some quinine to help treat malaria outbreaks in India. Tremayne instantly knows it is a bad idea : every able-bodied explorer has been unsuccessful, paying with their life, so he questions how he, a disabled explorer, will cope, survive and succeed. Lumped with orders to go, Tremayne is accompanied by a friend, Clem, and they venture into Bedlam, a holy town in uncharted Peru that holds many secrets of the past, and a sense of magic and history that will slowly unfold throughout the five parts of the novel, and reveal secrets about a Tremayne ancestor that Merrick had been unaware of. Accompanied by a priest, Raphael, whose presence indicates something a little out of the ordinary, lending to a sense of fantastical and magical realism within the novel.

The Bedlam Stacks is steeped in history and colonialist ideas and expectations of “The Other”, typically seen through Tremayne’s companion, Clem, whose ignorance and the sense that he felt his knowledge was superior came through at times, in contrast to Tremayne, who I felt made the efforts to understand and communicate effectively with Raphael and show his appreciation for what Raphael was doing for him. In 1860, when disability and injury might be more likely to inhibit what one is able to do, Tremayne copes, albeit with help when he needs it, and in what felt realistic, he is shown to struggle, but readers also get to see what he is capable of, in all areas of his person. It is a travel story with a difference, where the explorers are faced with the harsh realities of an unknown world that challenges their sense of being and self, and shows them just how human and vulnerable they are. They need rescuing by locals, and at times, they are shown to be imperfect, punctures to their egos that their upbringing might have inflated.

I liked Merrick’s sense of humility, and ability to stand back and let Raphael talk. It was refreshing to see this move towards equal standing of characters of vastly different backgrounds, much of which are extrapolated through flashbacks, cleverly inserted into the text without disrupting the flow of the story, and the vast majority is told in first person, with the exception of one chapter towards the end that gives the reader insight into Raphael and his past. Raphael’s absences of long periods of time are explained as catalepsy – by Merrick, who hears of Raphael’s symptoms and urges him to see a doctor – perhaps a marker of how he sees the world, juxtaposed with Raphael’s acceptance of things being the way they are. In doing so, Pulley has illustrated how two different worlds collide, and through this collision, have attempted to find a way to communicate.

Throughout the novel, odd things happen at different times, marking this as more than just an expedition into history and unexplored, uncharted areas of the world as they would have been in the 1860s. These instances hint at elements of fantasy and magical realism, and this makes it a very intriguing novel, as the layers of each chapter and part are revealed slowly to bring the story to it’s conclusion and the wrapping up of the characters and their lives, but at the same time, leaving some aspects open for interpretation and maybe another novel.

It was a enjoyable novel, and has made me want to read Natasha’s first novel. The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. An enjoyable novel, and highly recommended for fans of historical fiction, mysteries and novels with that little bit of a difference that make them stand out.

Booktopia

Evie’s Ghost by Helen Peters

evie's ghost.jpg

Title: Evie’s Ghost

Author: Helen Peters

Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction

Publisher: Nosy Crow/Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th June 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Classic children’s fiction from the author of The Secret Hen House Theatre.

Evie couldn’t be angrier with her mother. She’s only gone and got married again and has flown off on honeymoon, sending Evie to stay with a godmother she’s never even met in an old, creaky house in the middle of nowhere. It is all monumentally unfair. But on the first night in her godmother’s spare room, Evie notices a strange message scratched into the windowpane, and everything she thought she knew gets turned upside down. After a ghastly night’s sleep Evie wakes up in 1814, dressed as a housemaid, and certain she’s gone back in time for a reason. A terrible injustice needs to be fixed. But there’s a housekeeper barking orders, a bad-tempered master to avoid, and the chamber pots won’t empty themselves. It’s going to take all Evie’s cunning to fix things in the past so that nothing will break apart in the future…

~*~

Evie’s Ghost is the kind of novel that whilst for kids, is perfect for anyone who enjoys a mystery or historical fiction, and is a delightful time slip novel set in the early nineteenth century. Thirteen year old Evie has been sent to the country to stay with her godmother, Anna, whilst her mother and her stepfather go on a holiday without her. Annoyed at her mother, and with a dislike of her new stepfather, Evie reluctantly arrives at the house, and is devastated to learn of a lack of technology – and feels cut off from her friends and the world until an encounter with a ghost at her window draws her two hundred years into the past, to a grand house – where she must serve as a house maid to the Fanes who had once owned the property her godmother and others now live in, divided into apartments, and the interior grandeur lost. Waking up in 1814, Evie soon discovers a mystery to untangle, and someone to help – the daughter of the owner, Sophia Fane, in love with a gardener but who is being forced to wed someone double her age. With only a few days to work things out, Evie must find a way to help Sophia and get back to her time before she is missed.

Evie’s Ghost manages to tell an intriguing story, and uses the right amount of suspense and mystery, revealing things as they need to be revealed throughout the story, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the characters and time period. The initial shock of being yanked from the twenty-first century into the nineteenth century and Evie’s response to the food and clothes, and the people, as well as their reaction to her, and the way she speaks, laughing off her suggestion of cleaning machines as dreams that will never eventuate all work together to bring the modern and old worlds together, and for Evie to adapt, though she sometimes slips up with modern dialogue, it works for her character, illustrating the stark differences between her time and theirs.

Telling it in first person gave the story a great impact – seeing both worlds through Evie’s eyes ensured that the strength of the contrasting worlds and attitudes towards class and gender, and Evie’s shock at how people treated each other – gave the story more power, I think, and allows the reader to feel as though they are experiencing these attitudes with Evie. Showing this contrast through her eyes ensures that the varying aspects of the time periods are experienced by her and therefore, by the reader through a personal account. I felt immersed in the world in this way, but have also read third person novels where it has been done exceptionally well, and I think that comes down to the writer as well as the point of view character, and Helen Peters has done a really food job with Evie and her story here, culminating in a conclusion that had hints dropped here and there but that I still questioned at times, making sure I had all the clues right before my aha moment.

This novel worked because of these contrasts, and because of the compelling story that allows the reader to immerse themselves in the world of 1814 and Evie’s desire to help Sophia and get back to her time. The publisher’s website says it is aimed at readers aged between nine and twelve, and it is a good book for this age group, but I enjoyed it, as I enjoy time slip novels, historical fiction and mysteries, and Evie’s Ghost managed to combine all three to create a story that I read rather quickly, eager to see how it was resolved. I would recommend it to any reader who enjoys history, mysteries, and female heroines who resolve things for themselves.

Booktopia

Booktopia – Free Shipping!

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

the pearl thief.jpg

Title: The Pearl Thief

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Children’s/YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st July, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 408

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: From the internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Code Name Verity comes a stunning new story of pearls, love and murder – a mystery with all the suspense of an Agatha Christie and the intrigue of Downton Abbey.

Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family’s ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather’s death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong. And then she notices the family’s treasure trove of pearls is missing.

This beautiful and evocative novel is the story of the irrepressible and unforgettable Julie, set in the year before the Second World War and the events of Code Name Verity. It is also a powerful portrayal of a community under pressure and one girl’s determination for justice.

~*~

The Pearl Thief is set in England in 1938, in the year that preceded the incoming storm of World War Two, preceding Hitler’s march across Europe, and it’s characters show no indication that they are aware of the impending threat to their lives. Julie is on her way home from boarding school – a final summer at her family’s ancestral home before it becomes a school On her way hoe, Julie is attacked, and a well known archivist from London goes missing, presumed dead. And it is the McEwen family, a family of Travellers, who become caught up in the mystery after taking care of Julie and getting her to hospital. When Julie notices the family pearls have gone missing, she tries to piece together the night she was attacked, and slowly, a mystery unfolds. Whilst the investigation surges on, even with a lack of evidence, the suspicious eye is cast over the McEwens, despite Julie’s protestations that they could not have done it, questioning the reasoning everyone has. Amidst all this, the treasure trove of Murray pearls has gone missing, and Julie is determined to find it, and together with her brother, Jamie, and the McEwens, she strives to solve the theft – and a murder, with results that are as surprising as the rest of the novel.

For Julie, it is a final childhood summer, where she can relive the good memories and make some new ones, but at the same time, new discoveries about her mother and the McEwens, and her interactions with Ellen and her brother, have Julie questioning what she knows about herself and her feelings, but the world that she has known in comparison to Ellen’s world, and what they learn from each other through their new-found friendship. Like any friends, they had their disagreements on things and it took them a while to see that what something meant to Ellen, meant something different to Julie and vice versa, encapsulating the formation of an unexpected friendship between the two girls.

There are moments when the novel does not dwell on the mystery of the missing pearls and murder of the archivist, but rather, on the formation of the relationships between Julie and the Travellers, and how this begins to affect her and how she sees herself and the world. This character development ensures a solid grounding for the story, and even though the mystery was intriguing, it was nice to see the realistic approach that didn’t involve the obsessive nature and drive to solve the mystery, but rather, a nice balance between getting the characters and plot right to get from beginning to end, and allowing the characters to overcome hurdles and distractions, but ultimately, solving a mystery that had a very unexpected outcome, and an enjoyable journey to get there as a reader.

The Pearl Thief is marketed towards the children’s and Young Adult market, but I still enjoyed it and the setting that seemed to sing from every page – the Scottish landscape, and the speech of the characters cemented the time and place effectively. A great novel for anyone who likes mysteries, adventure and intriguing characters.

Booktopia

Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott

rotherweird.jpg

Title: Rotherweird

Author: Andrew Caldecott

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia/Jo Fletcher Books

Published: 16th May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 460

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Welcome to Rotherweird: a town with no maps, no guidebooks and no history, but many many secrets . . . A stunning combination of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL and GORMENGHAST with a dash of THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN.

‘Intricate and crisp, witty and solemn: a book with special and dangerous properties,’ Hilary Mantel

‘Baroque, Byzantine and beautiful – not to mention bold’ M.R. Carey

Rotherweird is twisted, arcane murder-mystery with shades of Deborah Harkness, Hope Mirrlees and Ben Aaronovitch, Mervyn Peake and Edward Gorey at their disturbing best.

The town of Rotherweird stands alone – there are no guidebooks, despite the fascinating and diverse architectural styles cramming the narrow streets, the avant garde science and offbeat customs. Cast adrift from the rest of England by Elizabeth I, Rotherweird’s independence is subject to one disturbing condition: nobody, but nobody, studies the town or its history.

For beneath the enchanting surface lurks a secret so dark that it must never be rediscovered, still less reused.

But secrets have a way of leaking out.

Two inquisitive outsiders have arrived: Jonah Oblong, to teach modern history at Rotherweird School (nothing local and nothing before 1800), and the sinister billionaire Sir Veronal Slickstone, who has somehow got permission to renovate the town’s long-derelict Manor House.

Slickstone and Oblong, though driven by conflicting motives, both strive to connect past and present, until they and their allies are drawn into a race against time – and each other. The consequences will be lethal and apocalyptic.

Welcome to Rotherweird!

~*~

Rotherweird is a town in England, that has been self-governing since Elizabethan times, and though they are firmly in the twenty-first century now, modern technology does not exist or work here. Following expulsion from England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth the first, Rotherweird is a town of anachronisms and history, fantasy and tragedy, but also comedy – making the story a sort of historical tragi-comedy. In Rotherweird, outsiders are not always welcome, and treated with suspicion. The arrival of Jonah Oblong, to be the new history teacher for Form IV, and the sinister billionaire, Sir Veronal Slickstone, set a series of events that will end in tragedy in motion, and lead to further books, which I hope will answer any questions Rotherweird didn’t.

History appears to be important in Rotherweird – as long as it’s not local history or any history prior to 1800 – it will be interesting to see how this is explored in the next book, Wyntertide. Rotherweird is split into six months, and before each month in our time begins, a section of Old History is told – this is the history not taught at the school Oblong is employed at, but that he and Slickstone are working to bring back, though each through different means. In Elizabethan times, Queen Elizabeth I seeks to get rid of the talented children of Rotherweird that she sees as a threat, and Rotherweird’s concealment of them leads to the execution of one of it’s citizens, and thus, Queen Elizabeth I cutting it off from the rest of England.

The Old History sections act as world building through plot, and this is very effective, as is the technique of holding things back, and the hints dropped about Slickstone as Oblong delves into local history, which is forbidden, yet with the arrival of Slickstone, who has permission to renovate the derelict Manor House, Old History and Local History begin leaking out, and not only to the two men trying to look into it and reinvigorate it in Rotherweird.

It is an enjoyable book, where history, fantasy, tragedy and comedy collide in new and unusual ways, to create a novel that is full of intrigue and mystery, and characters that aren’t quite what they seem to be, in a world that is modern yet at the same time, not really that modern, filled with characters who will begin to question the way things are as tragedy begins to strike at people they care for, people who previously had no interest in the world outside of the history they knew, such as Orelia Roc, begin to wonder about that history.

Much like a Shakespeare play, the cast of characters is given at the front, divided into the groups that they represent. In the novel, notes between the characters are handwritten – in Modern English but in the script that can be found in historical documents, where an s can look like an f – though I found these to be readable, and it didn’t take me long to get used to this – having read some such documents, I felt this is what helped me to work this out.

Each section is interspersed with wonderful and magical illustrations by Sasha Laika. These illustrations enrich the story and give it further sense of wonder and fantasy. Rotherweird’s Elizabethan feel in a modern style of writing is magically appealing and I gobbled it up in under a week, the short chapters flying by within minutes, with a decent pace, and nicely balanced telling and showing, it is a delightful novel with a sense of mystery that I enjoy in my reading.

A great read, perhaps aimed at teenagers and adults, it will hopefully become a favourite for many,

images

Booktopia

The Lost Pages by Marija Peričić

the lost pages.jpg

Title: The Lost Pages

Author: Marija Peričić

Genre: Literary fiction, historical fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: May 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 276

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: WINNER of the 2017 The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award

A stunning novel of friendship, fraud and betrayal within a compelling literary rivalry.

‘To frame The Lost Pages as being about Brod is clever and interesting. The Kafka we meet here is almost the opposite of the one we have come to expect.’ Stephen Romei, Literary Editor, The Australian

It is 1908, and Max Brod is the rising star of Prague’s literary world. Everything he desires-fame, respect, love – is finally within his reach. But when a rival appears on the scene, Max discovers how quickly he can lose everything he has worked so hard to attain. He knows that the newcomer, Franz Kafka, has the power to eclipse him for good, and he must decide to what lengths he will go to hold onto his success. But there is more to Franz than meets the eye, and Max, too, has secrets that are darker than even he knows, secrets that may in the end destroy both of them.

The Lost Pages is a richly reimagined story of Max Brod’s life filtered through his relationship with Franz Kafka. In this inspired novel of friendship, fraud, madness and betrayal, Marija Peričić writes vividly and compellingly of an extraordinary literary rivalry.

~*~

aww2017-badgeThe Lost Pages explores the fractured relationship between Franz Kafka, author of novels such as The Metamorphosis and The Trial, and his literary executor, Max Brod. In early twentieth century Prague, Brod is charged with taking care of Kafka, and securing his literary talent and manuscripts within the literary world of Prague and Germany, and it also explores the fractured, and unusual friendship of the two figures, and Brod’s sense of self in relation to Kafka.

Throughout the novel, told from Brod’s point of view, there are footnotes that indicate where something has come from, or been hinted to in the lost pages that inspired the novel. It explores a literary world now lost to us in the twenty-first century, but one that is still fascinating.

Marija Peričić’s inspiration for the novel came from an article in the New York Times outlining a court squabble between two elderly women over Kafka’s papers and manuscripts they had inherited. As Kafka’s executor, Brod published the manuscripts following Kafka’s death in 1924, and against his wishes. In The Lost Pages, Max struggles with the conflict of his role as literary executor, his sense of self and who Kafka is, and the threat that Kafka as the new rising literary star in Prague.

Kafka’s success and life is seen through the lens of Brod’s jealousy and feelings of isolation form people he cares about, and the impact this has in fracturing his mind, where Peričić explores where Kafka and Brod seem to meld together, interrogating Brod’s role in completing and publishing Kafka’s best known works. It is an interesting novel, one that uses history, literary circles and personalities to shed new light on the world of Kafka and his writing, showing a different side to the Kafka readers may know from his published works.

2017 vogel 1The Lost Pages is the 2017 winner of the The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award, which is one of Australia’s richest and the most prestigious award for an unpublished manuscript by a writer under the age of thirty-five. Offering publication by Allen & Unwin, with an advance against royalties plus prize money totalling $20,000, The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award has launched the careers of some of Australia’s most successful writers, including Tim Winton, Kate Grenville, Gillian Mears, Brian Castro, Mandy Sayer and Andrew McGahan.2018-VOGELS-PROMO

The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award-winning authors have gone on to win or be shortlisted for other major awards, such as the Miles Franklin Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Booker Prize.

Booktopia

Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

beyond the wild river.jpg

Title: Beyond the Wild River

Author: Sarah Maine

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26/4/17

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spellbinding and beautiful novel from a major new voice in fiction, perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Santa Montefiore and Rachel Hore.

From the author of THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES, comes an atmospheric and stunningly evocative historical novel. Perfect for fans of Eowyn Ivey’s TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, Stef Penney’s UNDER A POLE STAR, and Sarah Perry’s THE ESSEX SERPENT.

‘Maine skilfully balances a Daphne du Maurier atmosphere with a mystery… compelling’ Kirkus Reviews Scotland, 1893. Nineteen-year-old Evelyn Ballantyre, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, has rarely strayed from her family’s estate in the Scottish Borders. She was once close to her philanthropist father, but his silence over what really happened on the day a poacher was shot on estate land has come between them.

An invitation to accompany her father to Canada is a chance for Evelyn to escape her limited existence. But once there, on the wild and turbulent Nipigon river, she is shocked to discover that their guide is James Douglas, Ballantyre’s former stable hand, and once her friend. He disappeared the night of the murder, charged with the shooting.

Evelyn never believed that James was guilty – and her father’s role in the killing has always been mysterious. What does he have to hide? In the wild landscape of a new world, far from the constraints of polite society, the secrets and lies surrounding that night are finally stripped away, with dramatic consequences.

~*~

Evelyn Ballantyre has rarely left her family estate in the Scottish Borders, but a mystery from five years ago has put a strain on their relationship. In 1888 , there was a murder on the estate, and Evelyn knows the wrong man was accused, and so does her father, but he refuses to reveal the truth. They encounter the wrongly accused young man, James, on their trek in Canada as they travel across the country, taking in the wilderness and encountering the Native Americans living there at the time, faced with emerging memories of the murder, and the cover up that has led them to where they are. Through these scenes, a mystery emerges, and Evelyn is determined to prove to her father that James isn’t the killer and force him to tell the truth and reveal what he knows.

The wilderness of nineteenth century Canada is as much a character in the novel as the Ballantyres, James and their travelling companions. Evelyn and those she is travelling with are as intrigued by the mystery of the murder back in Scotland, yet they seem more fascinated by the Canadian wilderness, and the unknown culture they are faced with – though attitudes of the time and the approach they took in showing their fascination affect the actions and words of the characters. Yet Sarah Maine has managed to show these attitudes sensitively and with care, illustrating the different attitudes, but not resorting to using derogatory terms of the time, but still maintaining the fascination of the Other and the unknown prevalent at a time when contact between cultures wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.

The character and setting of the Canadian adds another layer: it is the mystery of a new land, a physical place, contrasted against the mystery of the murder – leading to Evelyn wondering if the murderer is actually with them, given that James didn’t do it. In making the setting a character, Sarah Maine has used it to show the flaws in the other characters, as well as showing this through their interactions with each other, eventually bringing the truth out into the open.

I enjoyed the pacing – it was slow at times, but only when it needed to be, and wasn’t too quick. It fitted the genre and plot nicely, and ensured a delightful read with an unexpected ending that I wasn’t sure would happen, but was a pleasant surprise when it happened.

An enjoyable novel for fans of literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery and Kate Morton.

Booktopia

Stars Across the Ocean by Kimberley Freeman

stars across the ocean

Title: Stars Across the Ocean

Author: Kimberley Freeman

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 450

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: The powerful new novel from Kimberley Freeman.

A rich and satisfying story of two women with indomitable spirits and the high costs they have to pay for being strong-minded, from the author of the bestselling LIGHTHOUSE BAY and EMBER ISLAND.

1874: Only days before she is to leave the foundling home where she grew up, Agnes Resolute discovers that, as a baby, she had been abandoned with a small token of her mother: a unicorn button.

Agnes always believed her mother had been too poor to keep her, but after working as a laundress in the home she recognises the button as belonging to Genevieve Breckby, the beautiful and headstrong daughter of a local noble family. Agnes had seen Genevieve once, in the local village, and had never forgotten her.

Despite having no money, Agnes will risk everything in a quest that will take her from the bleak moors of northern England to the harsh streets of London, then on to Paris and Ceylon. As Agnes follows her mother’s trail, she makes choices that could cost her dearly. Finally, in Australia, she tracks Genevieve down. But is Genevieve capable of being the mother Agnes hopes she will be?

~*~

aww2017-badgeStars Across the Ocean opens in the present, in first person. Victoria, or Tori as she prefers, has travelled from Australia to England to assist her ailing mother, who following an accident at work, is recovering in a rehabilitation centre. Tori is sent by her mother to her office to recover some work she has, and in the process, Tori finds a letter from about 1855: To My Child, Whom I Could Not Keep. And so begins Tori’s adventure into the past, via this letter, which abruptly ends and transitions from the first person perspective of Tori in the present and the letter, to 1874, third person, and Agnes.

Agnes Resolute is a foundling child of Perdita Hall in Hatby, Yorkshire. She has lived there for nineteen years, since her abandonment as a baby, with only a unicorn button the only clue to her past. Putting together her memories of a young woman named Genevieve from Breckby Hall, and a connection to the button, Agnes sets off on a journey to London, where she becomes the companion to Marianna Breckby, Genevieve’s sister and someone whom Agnes hopes, can help her find Genevieve.

Her time in London is cut short as she travels to Paris, where Genevieve’s son, Marianna’s nephew, Julius, finds her and listens to her story, and decides to help her find out about her family, telling her a few secrets of his own that make her question their relationship and what they might mean to each other. From Paris, Agnes travels alone to Ceylon to find Genevieve, and instead, finds a former lover, whose stories about Genevieve lead Agnes to Melbourne, Australia and the theatres. It is here that Agnes hopes to find Genevieve and have her questions answered,

Throughout the novel, it flicks back to the present as Tori struggles to put the letter together, with several sections missing, and whilst she is trying to solve the mystery of the letter, she is also struggling with her own demons back home in Australia, the lack of contact with her husband, and her ailing mother, who seems to need constant care.

It is a story about a young woman finding her place in the world, and reuniting with a mother who wanted her despite her family, and finding an unexpected love in the process. The romance was done exceptionally well, because the characters were given a chance to be their own people first and foremost; Agnes was allowed to be her own woman for a time, and find answers to questions she had had for years. It was a small part of the novel, but at the same time, a nice addition to a story that became about knowing who you are and not accepting what other people expected of you. There are two endings to this – the ending to Agnes’ story and the ending to Tori’s story. One was satisfying in many ways, and the other was a little abrupt, though realistic in relation to the plot. However, this second ending still left me wanting to know more, and wanting to know what else Tori and her mother would find out.

A delightful historical fiction story set in Victorian London, with a heroine who in some ways, fits into the gender expectations of the time but is still her own person and refuses to be tied down – the kind of character who can spread her wings when she wants to, and come home when she needs to. It is a lovely tale, and I hope to read it again soon.

A great read for lovers of historical fiction, and anyone who has read and enjoyed authors such as Kate Forsyth.

Booktopia