Monday, May 23, 2011

history, herstory, mystory

Nanberry: Black Brother White, Jackie French (Harper Collins)

Shan't say much just yet. Handed in my review to B+P recently and I believe it has to be one of the best books I've read this year and is a top-notch example of excellent historical fiction.

from the HarperCollins website: It′s 1789, and as the new colony in Sydney Cove is established, Surgeon John White defies convention and adopts Nanberry, an Aboriginal boy, to raise as his son. Nanberry is clever and uses his unique gifts as an interpreter to bridge the two worlds he lives in. With his white brother, Andrew, he witnesses the struggles of the colonists to keep their precarious grip on a hostile wilderness. And yet he is haunted by the memories of the Cadigal warriors who will one day come to claim him as one of their own. This true story follows the brothers as they make their way in the world - one as a sailor, serving in the Royal Navy, the other a hero of the Battle of Waterloo. No less incredible is the enduring love between the gentleman surgeon and the convict girl, saved from the death penalty, to become a great lady in her own right.

The Ivory Rose, Belinda Murrell (Random House)

Conversely, I was disappointed with The Ivory Rose. It has a great premise and plot but lacks sophistication in its delivery.

Jemma has just landed her first job, babysitting Sammy. It's in Rosethorne, one of the famous witches' houses near where she lives. Sammy says the house is haunted by a sad little girl, but Jemma doesn't know what to believe.

One day when the two girls are playing hide and seek, Jemma discovers a rose charm made of ivory. As she touches the charm she sees a terrifying flashback. Is it the moment the ghost was murdered? Jemma runs for her life, falling down the stairs and tumbling into unconsciousness.

She wakes up in 1895, unable to get home. Jemma becomes an apprentice maidservant at Rosethorne - but all is not well in the grand house. Young heiress Georgiana is constantly sick. Jemma begins to suspect Georgiana is being poisoned, but who would poison her, and why? Jemma must find the proof in order to rescue her friend - before time runs out.


See? Great, exciting premise. But too much exposition in sometimes-stilted dialogue causes the story to drag. It's also a little bit prescriptive. There are slabs of text that describe the ways of life in 1885 that read as lessons, rather than woven in to enrich the world subtly. When Jemma runs into Henry Parkes at the apothecary shop she fortuitously is able to recollect her school history class and dictate the lesson to the reader and the father of federation himself.

The characters suffer from being cookie-cutter shapes and tending towards the one-dimensional. Particularly, I wasn't convinced by the mother in this tale and object to her being portrayed as a pushy, overbearing, workaholic mother who then when has to turn to baking and wearing 'softer' clothes to show her character reconnecting and starting to understand her child.

I would still recommend The Ivory Rose because a historical fiction timeslip novel is always interesting and it is still great to enter another world and learn more about our history.

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