Western Australia, 1896. Eliza Brightwell decides to take matters into her own hands when her father mysteriously disappears off his boat while out on a pearl diving expedition with his crew. Time is of the essence when the local constabulary are clearly intent on arresting the wrong man and she must race to find out the truth and save an innocent man, all with the help of a handsome stranger.
The book is based, somewhat, on a real life, with Eliza modelled after a historical person and the pearl industry based on the real one in Broome, though Bannin Bay is not an actual place. The author purports to have set out to write a Western based in Australia, however, to me I would not have described it that way. It falls more generally in the category of romance meets historical fiction.
The author is not Australian, which you can guess in the first few pages, and is actually an English, London-based, travel writer. Sections of this book read like something out of Lonely Planet sometimes, which is jarring. The author has also tried to use Australian slang. It’s mostly modern Australian slang, not the slang of the period, and it’s consistently misunderstood by the author and used incorrectly. Which was kind of amusing.
The book falls into the trap that a lot of historical fiction does, that of making the heroine like a modern woman with our modern sensibility. Our protagonist loves all races and creeds, and is annoyed at her limitations as a woman in a man’s world. It’s a shame that the author did this, since the role women played in Australia during the colonial days right up to the present is very interesting. They were often very emancipated, comparatively, and technically Australia was the first country to give women the vote, according to some reputable sources at La Trobe University (it’s kind of a funny story, actually). Some women in the early days of Australia owned property and, if their husbands were still serving as convict labour, actually owned their husbands too. (If you’re interested, check out La Trobe’s Australian history podcast. It’s really good). For further context, Miles Franklin published My Brilliant Career only 5 years after the time this book was set. It’s funny to think of her herione, based on herself and her experience, getting up to all the mischief she does and choosing a career over marriage, in the same country at the same time as this book is also set.
The cover art of this book glows, and mine came with a beautiful matching book mark. I was definitely drawn to this one and I think a lot of other people will be too. For me, it was a definite miss and actually was really annoying to read as an Australian. I would recommend Peter Carey, Ruth Park for historical fiction, and I really enjoy Jane Harper for modern mystery fic, if you think you might feel the same way. I often struggle with historical fiction not being accurate enough and having too many tropes, so if you’re someone who likes it for the escape from modern life and from your own place and time, this will probably be perfectly satisfactory. No judgement.
Read It If: I don’t recommend this one.
Thank you to the publisher for the ARC of this book for review.