Colonial women: ‘No Hearts of Gold’ by Jackie French
Some girls are born to be loved,No Hearts of Gold
Some are born to be useful,
And some are born to be bad…
The strapline of Jackie French’s new historical fiction sums it up: not all colonial women in Australia were wives, mothers, convicts, or servants.
No Hearts of Gold is about three very different women: one from aristocratic English society; one of a sturdy business-minded nature; and one from a self-made-gone-bust family. They are brought together on a voyage from England to the colony in the 1850’s; the beginning of a complex but staunch friendship against all odds.
What they find in the booming, bustling, troubled colony defies their own expectations.
The three women embark on lives very different from the ones they may have envisaged for themselves, back in England.
Kat, daughter of a fond father whose fortune disappeared with the bust of railway shares that had created it in the first place, makes the quick marriage arranged for her by an aunt. While such a fast marriage seems improbable, they were surprisingly common at all levels of society then, especially in far-flung outposts like Sydney. Marriage offered protection, financial support and a chance to leave the past behind.
Titania launches a business provisioning the ships leaving the wharves, profiting from her acumen and hard work, but dispensing kindness and help to others where she can.
Wealthy, loving Viola lives with her guardian, Cousin Lionel, in the lavish house funded by her own inheritance.
It’s difficult to say much more about the plot while avoiding spoilers. So I will instead focus on the issues and themes canvassed in the novel.
The Gold Rushes play a major role in the plot line and set the scene for some of the drama. But the focus is also on the destructive nature of these crazy events: on families, on homes and businesses that overnight lost fathers, husbands, workers. And especially, on the fragile environment of this land.
… the vegetable gardens, the fruit crop, the supplies in their storeroom were a treasure now – a treasure that could keep you alive, when specks of gold could not, and envied by men who had forgotten laws and rules, even if they had once obeyed them. There was no one they could ask for help…No Hearts of Gold p177
Women’s lack of ownership over their wealth, possessions, future and even their children, and the control wielded by men, is another important current running through the novel. As is the ways in which many women, including our three protagonists, defied the systems and conventions that kept these inequities in place.
An unexpected twist turns the story into a mystery involving a possible murder, a bushranger and a police detective.
The novel packs in all this and more: but I think, at its heart is the precious nature of enduring friendships between women.
Viola closed her eyes in sudden, deep pleasure. A friend one could say anything to. A friend who took you seriously, and not as a child, or one who must live up to the concept of ‘lady’.No Hearts of Gold p171
No Hearts of Gold is another beauty of a Jackie French novel: a gripping mystery, a rollicking yarn, and an elegy to women’s strength and courage in a society that discouraged both.
No Hearts of Gold is published by Angus & Robertson, an imprint of Harper Collins Punishers, in December 2021.
My thanks to the publishers for a copy to read and review.
Nerdy fun: ‘The Curse of the Vampire Robot’ by Graeme Base
Who can go past a Graeme Base book, with their clever play-on-words humour and illustrations that you can simply fall into? This new one is especially fun and will bring a smile to parents and teachers, too, chock full as it is with references to all things tech.
In the Scottish Highlands, a modern-day take on an old folk story plays out. There’s a vampire in a grim castle atop a hill, fearful valley-dwellers, a humble cleaner. Littered throughout are tech references: there is a ‘baby ware-wolf’, a corrupted hard drive, range anxiety, a packet of ‘juicy little USBs’… you get the idea. It’s a playful mash-up of vampire tropes and the world of computers.
We think you had a virus’, said the ware-wolf.The Curse of the Vampire Robot
“Or a worm.
We ware-wolves often get them –
you can feel the malware squirm.’
It’s a lovely addition to kids’ bookshelves for fans of Graeme Base and those new to his work.
The Curse of the Vampire Robot is published by Angus & Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins, in September 2021.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.
Teenagers’ dreams and parents’ worries: ‘Can’t Say it Went to Plan’ by Gabrielle Tozer
At the risk of giving away my age, I can safely say that when I finished high school, the end-of-school phenomena known in Australia as ‘schoolies week’ did not exist. My cohorts and I celebrated the completion of our formal school years by outings to the local public pool and a restaurant dinner. Not with youth hostel (or five star) accommodation at a resort, youth oriented all night parties, dances and concerts, and all the other accoutrements that make up many a young Australian’s schoolies week.
A cross between a let-your-hair-down relief from the pressures of final school studies and exams, and a first step into the adult world without parental supervision, schoolies week is something that many young people dream of (and their parents have nightmares about).
Can’t Say it Went to Plan is a new young adult (YA) novel which follows the schoolies experience of three very different young people and their friends and family. Zoe, Samira and Dahlia have each planned the perfect schoolies week, but of course they also bring with them their individual concerns and preoccupations: anxiety and grief, parental expectations and sibling rivalry, boyfriend troubles, worries about their next steps in life. With alternating viewpoints, the author captures these perfectly along with the language and internal dialogue of this age group.
I cringed a lot reading this novel in recognition of the all-consuming self centredness of many youngsters and also, winced at the inevitable mistakes made by each of the three protagonists as they navigate their way through the ups and downs of a week in which plans are turned upside down. Parents may well turn green reading some of what they get up to, but in the end, the mistakes are not too disastrous and each character learns from their experiences.
Ultimately the novel is about what is really important: friendships and family, courage, perseverance and hope. By the novel’s end, the three girls’ trajectories meet, if only briefly, and they are able to reflect on what they’ve learned from their schoolies weeks.
Can’t Say it Went to Plan is published in May 2021 by Angus & Robertson, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
My thanks to the publishers for a review copy.