Friday, February 15, 2013
CBR V Review #11: In the Land of the Long White Cloud by Sarah Lark
This one came to me free with my Amazon Prime membership. The free book options for Prime are a mixed bag at best. I've had some really lovely choices, and some truly terrible ones (and there is a LOT of heavy handed religious lit available for free). This had so much more potential than I feel it actually reached.
In the Land of the Long White Cloud is an immensely long story of, at its core, two nineteenth century women who venture from England to New Zealand to marry and start their lives. Helen Davenport leaves for Christchurch to answer an advertisement for brides for "gentlemen of quality" living in the colonies. As a governess with no appreciable dowry, she knows her chances of a good match in London are remote, and so she takes a chance, escorting a group of orphan girls being sent over to work. Gwyneira Silkham (whose name I never figured out how to pronounce and shortened to Gwyn whenever I read it), whose situation in life is better than Helen's, goes abroad after her father loses a hand of blackjack to a sheep baron playing to win Gwyn's hand (and quite a lot of sheep and sheepdogs) for his son, Lucas. Both woman take a ship, with the orphans, over to the colonies to make a go at life and love and become quick and long lasting friends, despite their class differences and the conflict they discover between their husbands.
I wanted to love this book and rate it well. Truly. And it's a good book, with characters you care about. The issue at hand is the lack of editing. The story takes places between 1852 and 1877, and you feel every one of those 25 years. This needed to be a series rather than one book. There is a point where we jump from the perspectives of Gwyn and Helen (with occasional views of other tertiary characters in their age bracket) to those of their children. The issue I have with this is that it creates a whole new set of circumstances. You could easily have ended it when the kids were little, and then started a new book with the jump ahead, letting it focus on the youths and their relationships. Gwyn and Helen experience important things during that segment as well, but you could tie that into a sequel with more ease than keeping all of this in one book. The way it reads currently, you reach Otago and start to wonder if there is actually an endgame in sight. According to Goodreads, this book is Volume 1, but I hope the others are more succinct than this one. Volumes 2 and 3 appear to only be published in their original language (German), and while my German is good, it's not THAT good, so I'll be skipping them.
That being said, I did enjoy Helen and Gwyn's stories. It was sad for me that so much less time was spent on Helen - it's really Gwyn's story once they cross the seas. The women are interesting characters, and they grow into really lovely, strong women. It's also a very interesting look at the settling of New Zealand by the English, which is, admittedly, not a subject I'm terribly familiar with.
Trigger warning - this is a small spoiler alert I suppose, but I'd rather warn you than not. There's some unpleasant sexual content, including a rape. It's unflinching in what happens, so prepare yourself, or skip it if you know that is something you can't handle.
Overall, a book I enjoyed, but definitely wished was separated into more than one volume. Good historical fiction, but still shy of great.