Books and Bites Bingo debut novel – The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally (Monsarrat Series Book One)

 

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Ticking off my fourth square this time, the debut novel, I went with The Soldier’s Curse by Meg and Tom Keneally (Monsarrat Series Book One). This is Meg Keneally’s debut novel, though it is written with her father, Tom Keneally, who wrote Schindler’s Ark. This is the start of a series, set during colonial times in Port Macquarie, around 1825, and explores not only a crime, but also the history of the convict era and implications of being a convict, as well as the interactions with the local Indigenous people and ideas about how these interactions could have occurred and what they meant for different people – so it is an interesting look at how this may have happened.

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It is a complicated, and lengthy mystery, but finding out what happens at the end is very satisfying, and so the meandering road it takes to get to the resolution and main death is very well executed, and satisfying as you dig through the layers and uncover who the characters are. The true nature of the crime and those involved is also quietly bubbling away in the background as suspects are mentioned and dismissed until the true killer is uncovered. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

I’m hoping to read the rest of the series this year, and it is going to be one that hits many categories in my reading challenges, some multiple times!

Onto the next square – I’m not sure what it will be but I can’t wait to fill it and reveal it to you!

The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One) by Meg and Tom Keneally

soldiers curseTitle: The Soldier’s Curse (The Monsarrat Series Book One)

Author: Meg and Tom Keneally

Genre: Historical Fiction, Crime

Publisher: Vintage/Penguin Random House

Published: 27th February 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: A fast-paced, witty and gripping historical crime series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter Meg.

In the Port Macquarie penal settlement for second offenders, at the edge of the known world, gentleman convict Hugh Monsarrat hungers for freedom. Originally transported for forging documents passing himself off as a lawyer, he is now the trusted clerk of the settlement’s commandant.

His position has certain advantages, such as being able to spend time in the Government House kitchen, being supplied with outstanding cups of tea by housekeeper Hannah Mulrooney, who, despite being illiterate, is his most intelligent companion.

Not long after the commandant heads off in search of a rumoured river, his beautiful wife, Honora, falls ill with a sickness the doctor is unable to identify. When Honora dies, it becomes clear she has been slowly poisoned.

Monsarrat and Mrs Mulrooney suspect the commandant’s second-in-command, Captain Diamond, a cruel man who shares history with Honora. Then Diamond has Mrs Mulrooney arrested for the murder. Knowing his friend will hang if she is tried, Monsarrat knows he must find the real killer. And so begins The Monsarrat Series, a fast-paced, witty and gripping series from Tom Keneally and his eldest daughter, Meg.

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This is another series that I have had on my shelf for years and have only just started reading. All the books in this series are out, so hopefully I can get through them over the next few weeks or months. The first book introduces us to Hugh Llewellyn Monsarrat, a gentleman convict who is towards the end of his sentence in 1825. He is friendly with a local housekeeper, Hannah Mulrooney, and Hugh now works as the clerk for the commandant of the Port Macquarie settlement in 1825.

It is around this time that the commandant heads off – and his wife, Honora starts getting ill, and eventually dies. When Hannah is accused, Monsarrat sets out to uncover the real killer.

The mystery within The Soldier’s Curse starts out slowly – as an illness that the doctors have several ideas as to what it might be – but poisoning does not cross their minds until it is too late, and this is where it is clever, as once Honora dies, the investigation Hugh conducts ramps up – whereas  before he is an observer, and finds himself reflecting on the events that led him to where he is at the stage of the novel. As a result, there is a lot of backstory and build up, yet I think it helps contribute to the setting and feelings of the characters and mystery. Hugh is determined to prove Hannah Mulrooney is not guilty – the presumption that she is guilty because those in charge of finding out what happens ignore the access that others had to what may have to Honora and her home.

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Whilst Hugh navigates his position between the world of convicts, education and freedom, he also observes how the Indigenous people of the area the settlers named Port Macquarie – the Birpai – interact with the newcomers to their land, and the intersections of these communities in different ways – from those who do not come into contact, to the Birpai returning absconding convicts and to those mentioned who are said to have relationships (though this is not expanded on) with the settlers – of which, knowing history, there would have been negative ones as well as the positive ones hinted at in this book. As these stories are not always told, having them mentioned brings them to light at least, and readers can, from there, explore this area of history further to gain a better understanding of what happened in those early colonial days. It will be interesting to see how this is further explored in future books. There are complexities of relationships between convicts, jailers and free settlers, between the Indigenous people and the Europeans, and indeed, between the men and women, as well as between Englishmen and Irish or Scottish folk dealt with in this novel throughout. It felt as though these were carefully considered through the lens of Hugh, and based on his personality, and ways of understanding the world. Inequality is highlighted in many ways here – as is the hierarchy of everyone there. The way this is navigated throughout is consistently there, even if not mentioned on every page: there is a constant feeling that this is all going on at the time. It reflects a world where nobody quite understands each other and struggles to find a way to collaborate.

As the start of a series, it is very dense in establishing the character and his history,  yet as with any series with a key character, there is always more to come in subsequent books – the little things that have not come to the surface yet, and questions about the character that were not answered in the first book. I have the four that are already out on my shelf and hope to get through them all soon. It is an intriguing read about colonial history, and colonies other than Sydney Cove as well as the various interactions between the original inhabitants and those brought here for punishment, and the attitudes towards those two groups from the people who south to enforce their authority. A great start to a series.

Book Bingo Twenty-Two – A fictional biography of a woman from history

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Welcome to week twenty-two of Book Bingo with Theresa and Amanda. Coming to the end of October, and I have made it to one of my trickier squares – a fictional biography of a woman from history. With this one, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, yet I had earlier in the year, bought this book – Fled by Meg Keneally.

Fled

Fled is Meg Keneally’s first solo novel and takes inspiration from the story of Mary Bryant and her escape from the colony. In fictionalising this story, Keneally has given Mary and other female convicts a voice where they previously did not have one. Like Mary, Jenny escapes with her family to Timor, and manages to hide out for months. Keneally used many aspects of Mary’s life in this story, but also fictionalised many things to make Jenny’s story her own, and create a whole new story for readers that reveals something about Australian history that might not be as well-known as other events.

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Rows Across:

Row Two:

A book by an author with the same initials as you:

Non-Fiction book about an event: The Suicide Bride by Tanya Bretherton – #AWW2019

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Memoir about a non-famous person: Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Book written by an Australian woman more than 10 years ago: Deltora Quest: The Lake of Tears by Emily Rodda – #AWW2019 (2001)

Rows Down:

Row three:

Novel that has 500 pages or more:

Fictional biography about a woman from history: Fled by Meg Keneally – #AWW2019

Themes of justice: What Lies Beneath Us by Kirsty Ferguson – AWW2019

Book set on the Australian coast: The House of Second Chances by Esther Campion – AWW2019

Written by an author under the age of 35: Archibald, The Naughtiest Elf in the World Causes Trouble with the Easter Bunny by Skye Davidson – #AWW2019

Historical: The Familiars by Stacey Halls

Tune in in two weeks for one of my last entries for the year!

Fled by Meg Keneally

FledTitle: Fled

Author: Meg Keneally

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Echo Publishing

Published: 15th April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 394

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out.

Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. And when famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape, but is survival any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean?

Meg Keneally’s debut solo novel is an epic historical adventure based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant.

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Meg Keneally’s debut novel, Fled, is a fictionalised account of Mary Bryant’s daring escape from the colony of Sydney Cove in 1791, after her 1788 transportation. In Fled, Meg has created the character Jenny Trelawney as her Mary Bryant stand in, and has used facts and instances from Mary’s life – such as the names and birthdates of her children  – Charlotte and Emanuel, some of her family life and their names back in Cornwall (or Penmor for Jenny), and the main event, her daring escape to Coepang from Sydney Cove.

Following her father’s death. Jenny Trelawney, facing poverty, becomes a highwaywoman. She succeeds for months, until a brutal attack lands her in jail, on trial and soon sees her being transported with the First Fleet to Sydney Cove, where she marries Dan Gwyn to protect her daughter, Charlotte. They are eventually joined by son, Emanuel.

When famine hits shortly after, Jenny helps to hatch a daring escape plan with a few other convicts and her family, and they begin their journey towards Coepang (Kupang now) in what was then a Dutch colony in Timor, where they manage to hide out for months. Their journey is fraught with dangers, and Jenny worries about their survival, but as a mother, she feels she is saving her children from a worse fate in what to them, was a desolate colonial existence.

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Using Jenny Trelawney to tell Mary Bryant’s story is a clever way to explore a time in Australia’s history where the voices of those invaded the Indigenous people and those forced to go to the colony – the convicts – are often ignored. We get one woman’s story here, but it is a glimpse into what life was like for these people, both living an unwanted existence following the arrival of the First Fleet. It was an era of colonialism, where only the free and powerful had any voice and ability to write history. So for many years, this was the history that was taught. In recent years, a surge in stories about the people whose voices were often left out, relegated into a single group experience – which differed from group to group – are getting a chance to shine.

And this is where books like Fled come in. Not only are we getting to read about the convict experience but are seeing depictions of how some of the convicts might have interacted with the local Indigenous people, and how the convicts didn’t want to be there at all. It is also giving women of the time a voice. Whilst there may be stories about male convicts, like much of history, the voices of the women who suffered and struggled alongside them are absent. Women like Jenny Trelawney and Mary Bryant are often silent, unless they did something of significance or something significant happened to them. In this instance, we may end up knowing their name and their general story, but their voice is still not always present. Here, Jenny at least is given a voice, and I hope to see more stories like this – from convict and Indigenous perspectives – coming out to give balance to the historical record.

Reading this book, I could smell the seas, feel the rocking of the boats, and see, smell and hear all the unease of the new colony, and its makeshift huts and how they had to start navigating a world they never thought they would have to encounter.

Whilst this falls under historical fiction, it also suits one of my book bingo categories, a fictional biography of a woman from history, which I am stretching a bit, yet I feel like it fits well here. I will post that book bingo post later in the year, as the next several posts are already written and scheduled.

Another great book by an Australian woman, that is written very evocatively, and has power and emotion behind it.