Title: The Lost Sapphire
Author: Belinda Murrell
Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Random House Australia
Published: 16th May 2016
Synopsis: Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery – a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after ninety years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh.
A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago . . .
In 1922, Violet is fifteen. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family – including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré.
Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding?
Violet is determined to control her future. But what will be the price of her rebellion?
The Lost Sapphire is this year’s historical novel offering from Belinda Murrell. Like the rest of her historical novels and time slip novels, it is set in Australia and begins in the present day, before flashing back to 1922 and a story that mirrors what is going on in Marli’s life. In the decades between the wars, Marli’s great-grandmother encounters a Russian chauffeur, Nikolai, when he comes to work for her father. In 2016, Marli discovers that an abandoned mansion is going to be returned to her family, and she starts exploring it with a new friend, Luca, who also has a connection to the Riversleigh property Marli’s family is getting back. As Marli and Luca build a friendship, and explore Riversleigh, they discover its secrets.
Back in 1922, Violet begins to assert her beliefs and discover who she is. Her passions lead her to helping Nikolai and other friends who are less fortunate. In this world of changes in industry and worker’s rights, the echoes of World War One and events of 1917 foreshadow the world that Violet and those she holds dear will be plunged into soon. It brought another layer to the novel that those who know the history can appreciate. The rundown mansion of Riversleigh has echoes of The Secret Garden: a place locked up, that two children in need of companionship restore the house and garden, guided by a fairy wren in place of the robin.
All these layers in the story, and the characters that seemed to mirror each other, though in separate worlds, made for a wonderful story. Ever since I started reading Belinda’s books about a few years ago, I have waited eagerly for new ones to come out. Reading The Lost Sapphire, I was taken away to a different world. I travelled with Marli as she worked to restore Riversleigh, and explored Riversleigh of the past with Violet, explored her world of privilege but also the world of the underprivileged that she sought to expose through her writing and pictures with the help of Nikolai and her maid, Sally. The contrasts of the poor and rich were more apparent in 1922, yet the echoes of them could be seen a little in Marli’s time, in what was expected of her father. Like the other books Belinda has written, The Lost Sapphire has been rooted in a key cause or event in the lives of the characters that drive them on their journey to form their lives and the story. Each novel by Belinda Murrell is unique. I’d say this is one of my favourites, with the other top two being The River Charm and The Forgotten Pearl. These stories introduce younger readers to history in an accessible and interesting way that allows them to see the real events through the eyes of fictional characters, or fictional characters linked to family history, as in Locket of Dreams and The River Charm. I recommend this book to fans of Belinda Murrell, fans of history and mystery and readers everywhere who love a good book.