All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Postmistress by Alison Stuart

on August 7, 2019

The Postmistress
Alison Stuart
Harlequin AUS
2019, 395p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A stunning historical tale of loss, desire and courage that is full of the terror and the beauty of the Australian bush, for readers of The Thorn Birds, The Naturalist’s Daughter and The Widow of Ballarat. 

To forge a new life she must first deal with her past…

1871. Adelaide Greaves and her young son have found sanctuary in the Australian town of Maiden’s Creek, where she works as a postmistress. The rough Victorian goldmining settlement is a hard place for a woman – especially as the other women in town don’t know what to make of her – but through force of will and sheer necessity, Adelaide carves out a role.

But her past is coming to find her, and the embittered and scarred Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt, in town in search of gold and not without a dark past of his own, might be the only one who can help. Can Adelaide trust him? Can she trust anyone?

When death and danger threaten – some from her past, some borne of the Australian bush – she must swallow her pride and turn to Caleb to join her in the fight, a fight she is determined to win…

A devastating incident leaves Adelaide, the daughter of a wealthy Englishman, with a bit of a consequence. Rather than face her stern father’s wrath, Adelaide flees England and books passage to Australia where she eventually ends up the postmistress of Maiden’s Creek, a small mining town east of Melbourne. There she raises her young son Danny along with her former maid, who assists her in all manner of work. Adelaide doesn’t fit the role of refined woman of the upper class – she is kind to everyone and will often assist the less than fortunate in learning to read and write. She enjoys her role, she enjoys the small town, feeling at peace on the other side of the world.

Caleb Hunt is an American who ended up in Australia by chance. With scars of his own from the US Civil War, Caleb has left a lot of his former life behind, vowing never again to ply his craft. By chance he wins a claim of land in a gamble and decides it’s as good an option as any, deciding to try his luck. After he’s betrayed, he’s forced to reassess, not able to start work on his claim just yet. In Maiden’s Creek his quick thinking act to save someone’s life leaves him injured and he finds himself being cared for by Adelaide, who believes she owes him a debt.

I read quite a bit of historical fiction but surprisingly, I actually don’t read a lot of Australian historical fiction. This makes me wonder why because this book was fantastic and I enjoyed it from the first page to the last. It opens in England, with Adelaide as a young woman having breakfast with her father where he tells her he’s annoyed one of his ships has been lost. Adelaide isn’t annoyed though – what she’s experiencing is much more powerful than that. Then it skips forward to her in Australia, the postmistress of a small town close to a gold mining area. Adelaide is a very strong woman, a devoted mother to her son and the kind of person who treats everyone the same, from the wives of bank managers to the ‘dancers’ in a local establishment. She’s built herself an impeccable reputation in the small town, well aware that the one lie she’s told could bring it all crashing down.

Caleb has no one left. He’s as far away from ‘home’ as he can possibly get. When accident and design strand him in Maiden’s Creek, he and Adelaide get off to somewhat of a rocky start with Caleb reluctant to play patient. He really just wants to get out to his claim as quickly as possible and assess what he can do there. However he’s not in any condition to be able to do that, which gives them the perfect excuse to get to know each other.

This was a really well paced story with wonderful characters and a setting that really highlighted how isolated parts of Australia are and how arduous travelling around it was. The part of country that Maiden’s Creek is in has both mountains and is  also heavily forested which makes it a very challenging trek by horse and cart. Caleb’s reaction to staring over the edge of a cliff is great. There’s a lot of what I feel would be 19th century Australian issues addressed here, such as working at the local mine and the dangers and troubles that can bring, especially in the face of a manager who cuts corners in safety for production, effective medical treatment and policing in isolated areas, the weather, the wildlife and dangers like bushfires. A lot of these are still relevant today but with more technology to combat them.

The tension in the novel built nicely alongside the burgeoning attraction between Caleb and Adelaide, with the author doing a great job placing the characters in peril in a really believable way. The story had some interesting twists and turns, some of which I saw coming and some that I didn’t, so that kept me guessing and turning the pages. I really enjoyed the way the minor characters were included to – the romance between Netty and her beau, the ‘dancers’, the doctor with his troubles, the man who offers Adelaide medicines. It’s a nice little community, although not without its issues.

Very enjoyable.

8/10

Book #118 of 2019

The Postmistress is book #55 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019


2 responses to “Review: The Postmistress by Alison Stuart

  1. […] The Postmistress by Allison Stuart. My review. […]

  2. […] read and really enjoyed The Postmistress last year by Alison Stuart and this is a connected book, set in the same town and featuring […]

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