Rotherweird by Andrew Caldecott

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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,

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2017 Pultizer Prize Winner: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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Title: The Underground Railroad

Author: Colson Whitehead

Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26th April, 2017 (latest edition), Trade paperback 9th August 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 306

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER and a NEW YORK TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNER FOR FICTION 2016

2017 Pultizer Prize Winner

‘Whitehead is on a roll: the reviews have been sublime’ Guardian
‘Luminous, furious, wildly inventive’ Observer
‘Hands down one of the best, if not the best, book I’ve read this year’ Stylist
‘Dazzling’ New York Review of Books

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North.

In Whitehead’s razor-sharp imagining of the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad has assumed a physical form: a dilapidated box car pulled along subterranean tracks by a steam locomotive, picking up fugitives wherever it can. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

At each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.

~*~

In the antebellum South, Cora hasn’t seen much beyond the cotton plantation she is enslaved at in Georgia. An outcast as a slave and amongst slaves, Cora’s impending womanhood heralds an uncertain and painful future – one that she longs to escape but doesn’t know how. Until Caesar tells her about the Underground Railroad, a network of secret routes and safe houses set up during the nineteenth century to help slaves escape to free states. Assisted by abolitionists along the way to navigate the route and keep hidden from the slave catcher, Ridgeway. Running for her life and freedom after killing a white boy who tried to stop her, Cora must take on new identities and try to blend – working with a system that at each point, brings disadvantage and bondage of different kinds, and faced with the ignorance that breeds racism in the antebellum South.

Separated at one stage from Caesar, Cora must continue alone, and rely on fellow escaped slaves, freemen and abolitionists, all working to abolish slavery in America, in the decades leading up to the Civil War of 1861-1865. In a penultimate confrontation at a community of former slaves and abolitionists, tragedy strikes and Cora must use all the strength she has left to cross over into the free states, and begin to venture into a life she has control over, but that is still scarred by the shackles and chains of slavery.

Before reading this book, I knew a little bit about the antebellum South, the Underground Railroad, and slavery from a university history course on the American Civil War. It did not go into too much depth from memory, so Colson Whitehead’s novel helped to bring these stories to life more for me. As I read Cora’s story, I found it engaging, and at the same time horrifying: it was a story that gripped me on a human level, horrified at the way Cora had been treated, and as soon as she had some hope, it was ripped away too quickly. As the key character, all events and characters are seen through her eyes, and her judgement, but as she travels the Underground Railroad and encounters a variety of people in all walks of life, it felt that Colson Whitehead was showing the breadth and depth of how different people reacted to slavery, and how they felt about it. This made Cora’s story more powerful as she worked out who she could put her trust in and when, and in her dealings with Ridgeway when he caught up with her.

Using this historical backdrop, Whitehead has created a world of authenticity with a darkness to it that can’t be escaped or denied when discussing slavery and the antebellum South in the nineteenth century. Whitehead’s story mingles literary fiction and historical fiction, with a nice balance of character and plot throughout, interspersing Cora’s story with perspectives of her mother, Caesar and an abolitionist’s wife who nursed her back to health when she got sick. Cora travels through states that are determined to drive out the black population entirely, and states who seem to deal with black people but still treat them like second class citizens, or worse. The dehumanising language of slurs and “it” to refer to runaway slaves are shocking – but necessary. They set the tone for the characters and the setting of the novel as well.

Colson Whitehead has sewn the threads of this novel together eloquently, and by evoking a sense of place for each stop along the Underground Railroad, a sense of self in Cora and utilising speech patterns that fit the characters and places, has created a novel that must be read to understand the other side of the story to slavery and the Underground Railroad: the hopelessness felt by slaves, and the way they were mercilessly pursued and viewed as property in many places.

By shocking readers with the raw brutality of this period in time, Colson Whitehead’s novel will hopefully open up a dialogue and allow these issues to be explored further.

Sydney Writer’s Festival Appearances and links:

Colson Whitehead: The Underground Railroad (Conversation)

Saturday 27th May 8.30-9.30PM

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/colson-whitehead-the-underground-railroad/

Pulitzer Prize Winners Colson Whitehead and Hisham Matar

https://www.swf.org.au/stories/pulitzer-prize-winners-colson-whitehead-and-hisham-matar/

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Rather Be The Devil by Ian Rankin

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Title: Rather Be The Devil

Author: Ian Rankin

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Hachette

Published: 3rd November, 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: Some cases never leave you.

For John Rebus, forty years may have passed, but the death of beautiful, promiscuous Maria Turquand still preys on his mind. Murdered in her hotel room on the night a famous rock star and his entourage were staying there, Maria’s killer has never been found.

Meanwhile, the dark heart of Edinburgh remains up for grabs. A young pretender, Darryl Christie, may have staked his claim, but a vicious attack leaves him weakened and vulnerable, and an inquiry into a major money laundering scheme threatens his position. Has old-time crime boss Big Ger Cafferty really given up the ghost, or is he biding his time until Edinburgh is once more ripe for the picking?

In a tale of twisted power, deep-rooted corruption and bitter rivalries, RATHER BE THE DEVIL showcases Rankin and Rebus at their unstoppable best.

~*~

ian-rankin-2In Rebus’ twenty-first outing, Rather Be The Devil, which marks thirty years since the misanthropic detective who investigates the dark underside of Edinburgh and the crimes it tries to conceal. In Rather Be The Devil, Rebus is retired, though rather unwillingly, and is haunted by an unsolved murder from forty years ago: Maria Turquand. Alongside this, a crime syndicate is trying to evade justice and capture. Naturally, a retired Rebus becomes embroiled in these cases, assisting his former colleagues as he grapples with health issues that he is hiding from those who care about him.

Told in third person, most scenes involve Rebus but there are a few that are seen from the perspective of another character, giving the reader insight into the world Rebus lives in. It is a world of history and darkness, in a city I have visited and could picture in my mind: Princes Street lined by old buildings, the Royal Mile and cobblestones leading up to Edinburgh Castle. Even the names of some of the surrounding areas of Leith were familiar. It is set in a place that has a varied history, an interesting one, that towers architecturally over Rebus and his colleagues as they uncover the unsavoury figures that seek to destroy lives.

Rather Be The Devil refers to events that have occurred in earlier books, and though some things may follow on from what has come before, they do not have a large impact on the story. Hints of what has made Rebus who he is made me want to find out more, so hopefully I can track down some more of the books but overall, I was able to follow the plot as a stand alone story.ian-rankin-2017a

It is a dark and gritty story, but not overly violent. Ian Rankin has taken a beautiful city and placed a gritty misanthrope within it, and contrasted the beauty of Edinburgh with the horror of crime and rankled Rebus, and this works well. The contrast allows for an ongoing story to be told, and for immersion in Edinburgh and the world of Rebus.

With an interesting character, and a mystery that refuses to be let go until it is solved, Rather Be The Devil marks the thirtieth anniversary of Rebus well. Fans new and old will enjoy this outing of Rebus.

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Ian Rankin will be appearing at the Sydney Writer’s Festival, held between the 22nd and the 28th of May. Appearances are:

Conversation: Ian Ranking – Rather Be The Devil, Saturday, 27th of May, 2017 7.30 – 8.30 PM at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/ian-rankin-rather-be-the-devil-parramatta/

Ian Rankin: Who Says Crime Doesn’t Pay?

Friday, 26th of May , 6.30-7.30 PM at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/ian-rankin-who-says-crime-doesnt-pay/

Special Event: SWF Gala – Origin Story

Wednesday , 24th of May, 2017 6pm to 7pm at City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney

https://www.swf.org.au/festivals/festival-2017/swf-gala-origin-story/

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Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer

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Title: Letters to the Lost

Author: Brigid Kemmerer

Genre: YA

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 6th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

~*~

When Declan Murphy finds a letter on a grave during community service in the graveyard, he is compelled by an invisible force to read it, and respond to the person who wrote the letter.

When Juliet Young finds Delcan’s response to the letter she placed on her mother’s grave, she s incensed that someone has dared to read the words and respond to them as if they know her, as though they had the right to intrude. To Juliet, her privacy has been violated.

And yet, Juliet and Declan find a connection through this anonymous communication. They tell each other things they’ve never told anyone else, and reveal their true selves and feelings throughout the letters and later anonymous emails and messages that they move to. As they grow fond of each other through this method of communication, real life begins to throw them together: at school, at Homecoming, one the dark road with a broken down car, and they begin to form a friendship separate from the letters, not knowing that they are corresponding anonymously online when they face off in person.

Soon, they are thrown together more and more as real life and the letters start to blur together, and a fateful discussion threatens to throw them apart, and secrets are uncovered that Juliet is fearful to share with anyone – except those who helped her find the courage to look at her mother’s cameras, and find out what really happened the day she died.

Letters to the Lost is more than a love story. It is a story of loss, and how everyone deals with it differently, and a story of how the most unlikely friendships can develop in unusual places and come from a similar place and understanding, and slowly, develops into something more. Declan and Juliet have people they can talk to, teachers, friends, but not parents, and those who do try are not always able to understand them the way they understand each other.

I enjoyed Declan and Juliet’s story. It was heartbreaking in many ways, and illustrated the frustrations people feel that come with grief and change, and the shock of truths that lead to what happened, and the burdens that children shouldn’t have to shoulder. They are two people from different walks of life who find a way to understand the world, and the letters and emails interspersed with the prose and the dual perspective – where Declan’s chapters are indicated by him reading Juliet’s letters, and vice versa for Juliet – works well and establishes the characters for the reader, giving them both sides to the story, not just one.

Another interesting read from Bloomsbury for the Young Adult audience.

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Royce Rolls by Margaret Stohl

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Title: Royce Rolls
Author: Margaret Stohl
Genre: YA
Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia
Published: 1st May 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 400
Price: $15.99
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Bentley Royce is the wild-child of a super-glam reality TV dynasty. She has it all – designer clothes, a fancy school and an actual Bentley to drive around in. Her ambitious mom Mercedes has dragged the family from trailer park to Hollywood stardom. But Bentley wants out – she wants to go to college, escape her own storyline, be NORMAL – but Royces don’t do normal (or college).

Rolling with the Royces is running out of ways to keep viewers hooked and suddenly the show is threatened with cancellation. Bentley faces an impossible choice. Without the show, she could live the college dream – but her family will crumble (and is $20million in debt). Bentley Royce has a mission. She must use her brains to save the show; if she saves the show, she can save her family – and she’ll do whatever it takes …

Royce Rolls is a laugh-out-loud funny romp with a twist of mystery – a behind-the-scenes comedy with a brilliant voice, a hilarious and subversive antidote to the Kardashians and TOWIE (which will still work for fans of both!).

~*~

In Royce Rolls, the main character, Bentley Royce, is tired of playing the role of wild child in the reality television show, Rolling with the Royces. She’s tired of having her every waking minute filmed, and tired of being told how to act, and what to wear and humiliated by her sister, Porsche and her mother, Mercedes. After six seasons of the humiliation, Bentley’s only hope for a normal life and college – something that goes against everything Mercedes has instilled in her children and everything the show runners have encouraged for the Bentley character – is for the show to be cancelled. But when the threat of cancellation, her family will be faced with a large debt they’d have no chance of paying off. And so, Bentley must make a choice between family and a life that she has yearned for over many years.

Starting with an incident that shocks the reader, and inevitably, the characters, the novel switches back to the events that led to the tragedy. Each chapter ends or begins with relevant articles that would probably be found on a celebrity gossip site that blow things out of proportion with sensationalist headlines and stories, these do little to reflect the reality Bentley and her family manage to live when the cameras aren’t rolling during hiatus, or those rare hours when they’re studying their characters and Mercedes is probing them to be a person that they aren’t.

Bentley’s only solace is a local library, where she meets fellow library patron, Venice, and for the first time, experiences a real friendship, outside of a scripted “reality” that has been coerced to bring in ratings. She manages to get away at a certain time of day for this time out, and realises through these meetings that there is more than life on the show, and she wants more. Venice is the only person she can be the real Bentley with, not the scripted wild child “Bad Bentley” that everyone expects on the show.

Royce Rolls takes the reality television format and makes a mockery of it, revealing that what viewers see in the shows that populate television screens claiming to be reality television, television of real life, is really scripted and carefully produced and created using real people – acting as characters who are projected as the true selves of those on the screen, as opposed to fictional characters played by actors in television shows that often have much more interesting story lines.

As a rather anti-reality television fan, or at least, a viewer of shows like Masterchef who looks at the way things are edited for story telling purposes, this was an amusing read, and I was pleasantly surprised that I liked it. It shed light on the fallacy of reality television and indicates the power of reality comes from who a person really is, not what the world sees. It establishes the flaws of celebrity as well, and shows that that world is not as perfect as it may seem.

An interesting read for the YA audience, fans of reality television and those who don’t enjoy it. It is an antidote to the saturation of this genre and it uses humour and satire to show what this world is really like in an accessible and fun way.

Booktopia

Blog Tour: Girl In Between by Anna Daniels

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Author: Anna Daniels

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th April 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 314

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Life can be tricky when you’re a girl in between relationships, careers and cities… and sometimes you have to face some uncomfortable truths. The sparkling debut from comic TV and radio presenter, Anna Daniels.

Lucy Crighton has just moved in with some gregarious housemates called Brian and Denise… who are her parents. She’s also the proud mother of Glenda, her beloved 10-year-old… kelpie. And she has absolutely no interest in the dashing son of her parents’ new next-door neighbour… well, maybe just a little.

When you’re the girl in between relationships, careers and cities, you sometimes have to face some uncomfortable truths… like your Mum’s obsession with Cher, your father’s unsolicited advice, and the fact there’s probably more cash on the floor of your parents’ car than in your own bank account.

Thank goodness Lucy’s crazy but wonderful best friend, Rosie, is around to cushion reality, with wild nights at the local Whipcrack hotel, escapades in Japanese mud baths, and double dating under the Christmas lights in London.

But will Lucy work out what she really wants to do in life and who she wants to share it with?

Anna Daniels is a natural-born comedian. She originally set out to write a screenplay that was part Muriel’s Wedding, part The Castle. Instead, she wrote Girl In Between, which was shortlisted for the 2016 Vogel’s Award. She says ‘I’ve always loved comedy which not only makes you laugh but also pulls at your heartstrings. I think a lot of people may be able to relate to Lucy’s story!’

Girl in Between is a warm, upbeat and often hilarious story about life at the crossroads. Featuring an endearing and irrepressible cast of characters, it will have you chuckling from start to finish.

~*~

aww2017-badgeSet in Rockhampton, and London, Girl in Between is a story about the cross roads of life that Lucy Crighton, in her early thirties, is faced with. At her age, stuck between jobs, and living at home while she works towards her dream of becoming published, and recovering from a relationship that ended recently, and that she would rather forget, Lucy is in a rut. On one side, she has her parents nagging about the real world and real jobs, and at times, their slightly embarrassing jokes. On the other, her best friend Rosie, working part time, chummy with her parents, and pushing Lucy into the arms of the son of a new neighbour, and conspiring with her mother, Denise. Combine that with the re-emergence of her ex, and Lucy has become the Girl n Between: in between relationships, in between careers, in between life.

Lucy Crighton lives with her parents – Brian and Denise, a ten-year-old kelpie called Glenda, and her mother’s obsession with Cher, and a variety of hobbies that come in and out of the house all the time. Her best friend, Rosie, makes herself at home. And the people who drift in and out of their lives in Rockhampton are just as quirky and interesting, and they all ensure a story full of fun and laughs, where big mouths get people into trouble and reveal things that shouldn’t be revealed. Through a series of mistakes that anyone can make, each character is shown to be not so perfect – a refreshing change in a novel with a hint of romance, as having characters in a romance who aren’t flawed and who are perfect and where finding their path isn’t complicated can be boring. Lucy’s journey to where she finally ends up certainly isn’t boring.

There is romance in this novel, however, I quite liked that it took a while to develop and that Lucy didn’t jump into it head first, rather she floundered, and travelled and tried different things. The London chapters were perhaps my favourite, as I felt like I was there, and working with Lucy in Scribe. As an aspiring author and book lover, and someone in their thirties, I could identify with Lucy, and hopefully others will too. She’s not perfect – she has her flaws, and like characters such as Bridget Jones and Nina Proudman, she makes mistakes, and at times, seems to fumble her way around life – but we all do. That is what makes characters like Lucy so relatable.

In a story about life and the choices we make, and the people in our lives, Girl in Between is fun and contemporary, with a creatively driven character who is unwilling to settle for things but at the same time, is faced with choices that must be made, and a character who has her ups and downs. In a story where these are embraced and not swept away under the carpet, Girl in Between by Anna Daniels gives readers after something a little more in their romance novels, where romance occurs but isn’t necessarily the goal a book to enjoy. It is a story about cross roads and discovering yourself, and how things work out – and where you end up in life. The eventual romance bubbled and simmered as the story went along, which made if more enjoyable for me, as I got to experience Lucy as she found her way in life without worrying about falling in love: it was something that just happened.

Girl in Between is a delightful and funny story about finding yourself at a point in your life were not everything is working out, and finding a way to make it work.

 

Girl in Between by Anna Daniels is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.

Find Anna here on social media:

• Twitter: @annadtweets
• Insta: @annamdanielsAnna Daniels
• Website: http://www.annamdaniels.com

 

Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

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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.

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