The story begins in tried and true fashion: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, in this case to another man. Young Jem, a common labourer, does the honourable thing by standing aside so that Ella will marry the man chosen for her, the son of a prosperous farmer, who can give her a better life. Unfortunately, the husband turns out to be a coarse brute. The story really gets interesting when Jem, along with his two cousins, commits a murder and is sentenced to be transported to a penal colony. Never mind that she is married and has borne Jem’s son, Ella determines that somehow she will follow her love to the other side of the world.
Two things illuminate this book for me. First is the little nuggets of 19th century farming life Ms. Bryn describes without in any way intruding on the story. Second is Ella’s awakening, as she learns little by little how few rights she has over herself and her child. As one of the men in her life says in all sincerity: ‘Why would you need rights? You’re a woman. Your pretty little brain isn’t equipped to deal with important decisions. You need the protection and support of a man, a husband.’ These words encapsulate the views of the time perfectly, especially as they are spoken by a good man.
Jem pays a terrible price for an atrocious act committed in a moment of madness, and Ella’s determination to join him leads her to adopt drastic measures. Yet it is not difficult to sympathise with the two.
I do have a couple of little gripes. The author uses pronouns instead of proper names far too often, leading to some confusion. Also, in the early chapters I found the motivations of the two central characters difficult to believe. But these things in no way reduced my enjoyment of the book. Once the story got going it gained momentum with each page until, at the last, I was left wanting more. As it happens, books 2 and 3 are available.