Book Review: Fool’s Gold

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Author: Zana Bell
ISBN: 978-1-78189-185-8
RRP: $3.99

Fool’s Gold is the latest release by Zana Bell, a historical romance set in New Zealand in 1866 against the colourful backdrop of the gold rush.


Lady Guinevere Stanhope has been transported from her stately manor house to the wilds of New Zealand. It takes a while before we discover the entire story of her change of lifestyle, time in which we get to know her quite well. Lady Stanhope is not what you would expect in an English lady; then again you wouldn’t expect to discover an English lady in the forests of New Zealand unaccompanied either. She was certainly a surprise to Irish Quinn O’Donnell when their paths crossed less than amicably late one afternoon.

Quinn seems to have had a less than pleasant past with English gentry, leaving him with strong preconceptions and prejudices. At heart Quinn has a caretaking nature so though he would like to leave the strong willed an unaccompanied Guinevere in the forest alone as he found her he finds that he simply can’t do it.

Lady Guinevere, who much prefers to be known simply as Guinevere, is not alone in New Zealand by choice. She made the crossing with her father, who unfortunately didn’t survive the trip. Instead of boarding the first ship homeward bound she decided she owed it to her father’s memory to finish what he started when they set off from England. On the surface this seems like a foolish and ill-considered plan, no lady should be gallivanting unaccompanied but to travel so completely alone within a society so completely new and different is definitely bordering on reckless.

Guinevere is strong willed and stubborn, she was raised unconventionally for those of her station. Her father was a patron of the arts so she was raised surrounded by artists and their models, she was exposed to people and situations most of her age and station would not. She has developed a strong sense of independence and determination to be self-sufficient, her situation is not ideal and she knows it but she refuses to turn tail and head home, and for good reason we later discover.

fools gold

Fool’s Gold is another book where a father lacking in financial sense has put the hand of his daughter in jeopardy, but in Fool’s Gold Guinevere has no idea of the deal that has been made until all is said and done. It certainly explains her determination to complete her father’s quest; it is the only thing that stands between her and a husband she is desperate to avoid.

Guinevere is recognized as a lady right from the start, even if no-one knew her title her bearing gave her away. Much of the time her reputation as a lady shielded her from the harsher realities of life in the small town of Hokitika.

At every turn Guinevere finds herself faced with adversity but refuses to give in. Her stubborn streak is quite infuriating for those around her. There is something about young Guinevere that draws people in. She is stubborn, strong willed and not afraid to turn her hand to anything, at least once, to exercise her self-sufficiency.

Her adventures show her that there is so much more to life than that which she grew up with at Maidenhurst Manor. She took so many things for granted and thought nothing of the staff waiting on her, now she is given the opportunity to see things from the other side of the system. I’m sure there would be many who took refused to learn anything from that journey but Guinevere was not one. She took it all in and made conscious choices to change things where she could and to recognize the struggles faced by the working class.

The element of romance in Fool’s Gold is understated, it’s all in the looks and emotional side of situations, to the point where I wondered if anything would come of it. The romantic storyline was well written and I found the conflict interesting as I watched and waited to see if they would ever get past their habit of inciting anger and running away.

Guinevere’s adventures see her mature into a well-respected artist on her own merits, she works towards her goals tirelessly and never loses sight of the ultimate goal. Just as it looks like she has it within her grasp things take an unexpected turn and her prospective husband arrives unannounced and turns everything on its head.

I found Fool’s Gold to be entertaining and intriguing, always needing to know what happened next. Guinevere and Quinn have such colourful pasts that it was hard not to get involved with them. Quinn’s story was one we uncovered slowly so for much of the story we were left guessing at his motivations and reactions but when it all came together it made perfect sense.

Zana Bell has written an engaging novel centred on a time of great change and explosive growth in New Zealand history, her characters are not what you usually find and I love her method of storytelling. I look forward to seeing what she has to offer next.

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