Monday, December 10, 2018

Review: The Widow of Ballarat

Title: The Widow of Ballarat
Author: Darry Fraser
Publisher: 19th November 2018 by Harlequin Australia, HQ
Pages: 318 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4.5 cups

A compulsively readable story of passion, adventure and a woman's quest for independence set against the colorful backdrop of 19th century Bendigo and the goldfields of Ballarat.
1854, Ballarat, Victoria When Nell Amberton's husband is shot dead by a bushranger, there are few who grieve his passing, and Nell least of all. How could she miss the monster who had abused her from the day they wed - the man who had already killed his innocent first wife? But his death triggers a chain of events that seem to revolve around the handsome bushranger who murdered him - a man to whom Nell, against her better judgment, is drawn.
But Nell has far more than a mysterious stranger to worry about. With a mess of complications around her late husband's will, a vicious scoundrel of a father trying to sell her off in matrimony, and angry relatives pursuing her for her husband's gold, she is more concerned with trying to ensure her safety and that of her friend, goldfields laundry woman Flora, than dealing with the kind of feelings that led her astray so catastrophically before.
After the violence on the goldfields, Nell's fate also hangs in the balance. It seems that, after all, she might need to do the one thing she has avoided at all costs...ask for the help of a man.
My Thoughts

‘She would venture onto the digging fields for one last time, to take a walk over the damaged, sad hills filled with empty holes and dashed dreams.’

Set in the goldfields of Ballarat in the aftermath of the Eureka Stockade, Darry Fraser takes you on a fabulous journey of what it would have been like for women during this transitional phase in history. Whilst certainly interesting to read key events from this period, this is not the main focus of the book. The main focus is in fact the role of women and one in particular, Nell Amberton.  Here is a women (in a time when marriage was the only accepted form of legitimacy) who endures an abusive relationship, tries to realise life as a widow, attempts to become independent and build a new life for herself, all whilst dealing with some shady characters. Nell and her friend Flora, provide a fabulous insight into the life for a woman in extreme circumstances of living on the goldfields.

Darry provides you with a strong historical setting of the day to day living and often tenuous prospects of life on the Ballarat goldfields in Australia of the 1850s. Seeing it through their eyes, you will feel yourself transported back trying valiantly to eke out an existence. How wonderful to view it from a female perspective, the silent partners in this often futile escapade to make a fortune.

The characters are rich and engaging. Nell and Flora representative of female tenacity, the father and nephew the ugly domineering male, that was thankfully, balanced against the gallant Finn - what a fabulous ‘bushranger’ he made! Fear not the obvious cliches, as issues of independence after marriage and the wearing of pants give a little taste of the momentous changes that would ultimately unfold for women. In a time when Aussie authors are making their mark in rich historical fiction, Darry has done a fabulous job with some wonderful storytelling and puts herself right up there with the best.

So if you like a good story, women attempting to exert independence, throw in a dashing hero to assist, then this will be the book for you. Life was hard, especially so for women who were often regarded as male property; this tale saw me eagerly awaiting what would unfold next for the harsh circumstances of being, ‘The Widow of Ballarat’.

‘Nell looked about her, at the rough and tumble of the camp, at the dust and the dirt, the hard, worn-down faces of men and women alike. The white people, the black people, the yellow people, myriad languages, the bellowing, the brawling, the children of all races on the diggings, scampering about, their dirty faces and patched clothes evidence of the fickle luck on the fields.’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.

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