In actual fact, I read the proof copy of this at the start of the term – hungrily devouring each page with intensity – as I do with every single one of Jackie’s books, particularly her historical fiction. All those who are faithful fans of the Matilda saga will embrace this new book with gusto as it precedes the series and takes the reader right back to the very early days of the European settlement in Australia.
I’ve said this oftentimes after reading one of Jackie’s Australian historical fiction books but I’m saying it again – I always discover new learning. I had absolutely NO idea that so many of the early immigrants (either convict or free) were directly connected to the Battle of Waterloo and this, apart from anything else, made for the most fascinating reading.
Henrietta Bartlett is the daughter of a battlefields surgeon and his very able assistant despite her youth. Motherless, Hen is in the forefront of the brutality and bloodshed of the Napoleonic wars and her gentle but efficient treatment of survivors earns her the epithet of ‘Angel of Waterloo’. It is one moment of extreme anguish saving a young man that Hen finds herself being married to her patient and although the union is contracted in extremis, for Hen it is the most real thing she has ever done. When she is told her new husband has died her grief is intense but she continues to work alongside her father until a time comes when she is on her own – without family, without spouse and must forge a new path.
That path takes her to the raw and raucous colony of New South Wales after the discovery that her husband has in fact survived the wars and is now living there. But more anguish is in store for Hen when she discovers that Max has ‘re-married’ and has a new family. With a spirit so indomitable that she can only be one of Jackie’s characters, Hen creates for herself a new reality becoming a landowner, farmer and woman of healing. To locals of the impoverished and disenfranchised status, she becomes ‘Auntie Love’ and her life rolls out with many twists and turns, ultimately being realised into a warm and fulfilling reward for her patience and generous nature.
With her customary dexterity Jackie references her other books and readers will delight in the ‘ah ha’ moments contained in this intriguing and exciting narrative.
I had moments of angst when I thought the story was not going to end the way I’d hoped but the denouement is just sublime – and I’m not the only one to think this. Naturally, I lent my proof copy to a couple of fan friends who whole-heartedly agreed with me.
I don’t know how she does it to be honest but she does with such complete authority and seeming ease – every single time!! I takes me hat off to you Jackie French – as always, this is the perfect read.
Do I need to ‘sell’ it? Probably not but if you are not sure, don’t hesitate! Put this on your reading list immediately!!
This little hobby of mine has brought me so much richness. I’m able to read the newest titles from so many fabulous creators. But as you probably have realised I stand in complete awe of our maven of literature for children, teens and adults, Jackie French, and what a privilege for me to have the opportunity to read the last of the Matilda saga well before its release date.
So many of us have followed the travails of Jackie’s characters both historical and fictional, spanning a century, and now the narrative comes full circle encompassing both the past and the contemporary. The characters with which we have engaged and loved have made the past come alive and the present realised in a sweeping story of strong women particularly and vivid history.
Those readers who are familiar with the series (who isn’t?) will expect that this last volume will continue our connection with Jed and Sam, Scarlett and William plus Alex, as well as Nancy so I don’t really feel the need to expand on the plot – because clearly you will want to read it for yourself. What I want to focus on is the scope of this body of work – as Charlotte would say, arguably Jackie’s ‘magnum opus’. By saying that I would not imply that Jackie has reached her peak or we can expect any less in the future but to my mind this series represents and encapsulates so much of what Jackie strives to achieve and bring to her audience as well as embodying so much of herself in so many ways.
Jackie’s unequalled ability to place her readers firmly in the period of which she writes and the skill with which she connects us to the characters is unparalleled. But even more so is her deftness with interweaving so many threads of historical narrative throughout her work: to do so over a series of nine books is to my mind a superb accomplishment. This final volume of the series not only continues the narrative but expertly brings in the references to earlier books and the exquisite blending of fact and fiction is enthralling. Of course, as readers we hang on waiting to know the fate of Jed and Sam, as well as Scarlett, but now we are also privy to the amazing love story of Clancy and Rose – as well as the unfulfilled connection between Clancy and Matilda. As a long time devotee of Banjo Paterson (thanks Dad!) this blending of history and imagination just delights me so much and Jackie has the innate skill of making the events and circumstances so utterly believable.
My regard for Jackie goes well beyond her unerring skill as a storyteller, a diligent researcher and an accurate historian. I know her to be a warm, generous and caring human with a drive that is enviable and a nature that is beautiful. She is truly an admirable Australian whose passion for our history – whether good or bad – and our unique culture is to be celebrated.
In case you haven’t picked up on it – I cannot recommend this highly enough – and all I can say is if you haven’t read the first eight books – shame on you