Author: Darry Fraser
Publication Date: 19th December 2018
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
The Widow of Ballarat is Darry Fraser’s third novel and although it clearly stands on its own as a novel, there is a link to her previous two books, the Murray River series.
Set in Ballarat, the day after the infamous Eureka Stockade uprising in the goldfields, Fraser continues to demonstrate her research skills and ability to seamlessly blend historical fact with fascinating, engaging and realistic characters.
Fraser pulls no punches in highlighting the hardships of working on the goldfields during the gold rush in the mid 1800’s. The requirements for all to pay their monthly gold licence fee, even those who weren’t digging but providing services such as laundry “in case they came across a nugget in their work”, the desperation that led to the Eureka Stockade uprising, and the dramatic over response by the government troopers, and the violence that so many women endured at the hands of their fathers and husbands.
Nell Amberton is the central character in this tale. Forced into matrimony by her father with the sickeningly violent Andrew Amberton even before his first wife’s body has even cooled in the grave, Nell vows not to end up the same way. Amberton taunts her that she will only be secure when she produces a male heir, as stated in his legal papers.
The morning after the Eureka Stockade uprising Amberton drags Nell and some bags of gold into a carriage to flee the goldfields, abandoning the men who are working his claim. When the carriage is stopped by a bushranger, Amberton, like the bullying coward he is, uses Nell as a shield as he exits the coach. It comes as a great surprise to all then, when the bullet that fells Amberton does not come from the bushranger’s gun, leaving both Nell and the bushranger to wonder where the bullet came from.
But for a woman in the 19th century, the death of her husband, even one as cruel as Amberton, did not afford any security. Unless Nell was delivered of a male heir, as per Amberton’s will, then she had no claim to the property they lived in, or any form of support, and would likely be returned to her scoundrel of a father so he could sell her off in matrimony again. Reluctantly she finds herself living with Amberton’s sister, who clearly considers Nell to be a burden, and her nephew Lewis, who wants Amberton’s purported gold to address his own financial woes.
Nell must use all her wits to ensure that she remains a free woman and salvages her future from the pit of despair in which she finds herself, while at the same time trying to understand the feelings she seems to be developing for the handsome young bushranger, whose face she has not seen, yet is drawn towards.
This is a fabulously written book, which deals with a tumultuous period in Australian history, in an honest and realistic manner, and yet also encompasses love, loyalty, the beginning of the movement towards rights of women and the amazing strength to survive that some women demonstrated.
At her book launch Darry Fraser stated that she felt the need to write this book to explain where a character in the River Murray series sprang from, and for those familiar with her previous books there will be an “Aha” moment. For those who may not have read Fraser’s prior work I hope this book inspires you to seek them out.
Highly recommended 5 stars.
This guest review was submitted by our Beauty and Lace Club member: Marcia who was lucky enough to meet the author at a book launch.
The Widow of Ballarat is available now at Harlequin, Angus and Robertson, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.