As she did in the first book of this trilogy, The Secret River, Kate Grenville delves into her family history to recreate Sarah Thornhill. Sarah is the youngest child of William Thornhill, the central character in The Secret River, who was shipped to Australia as a convict and eventually made a decent life for his family.
Sarah grows up in ignorant bliss of the troubles that took place between her father and the local Aboriginals, her eyes firmly set on the handsome Jack Langland. The lovers’ happy future seems certain until Sarah’s father refuses to allow her to wed the half-black Jack.
Jack returns to sea, and a devastated Sarah eventually marries Irish immigrant, John Daunt. The author sharply evokes the hardship of life on a new settlement, the marriage taking unexpected turns for both Sarah and the reader and building to the heart-breaking moment when Sarah discovers the true reason for her father’s refusal of marriage to Jack.
The only very minor gripe I had was with the end of the story. Whilst Sarah’s journey to New Zealand, in an attempt to make amends for the sins of her family, worked for the story, it did not work too well for me in terms of character.
Despite this, I felt Kate Grenville captured the voice of the headstrong, passionate and illiterate Sarah perfectly. This is a tender portrait of a young woman caught up in the turbulent period of the birth of a nation and, coupled with the author’s stunning prose, I would highly recommend Sarah Thornhill.