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Review of Scarlet ribbons, a novel by Emma Blair.
I am reviewing the paperback version of this book, published by Piatkus Books, 576 pages, ISBN 978-0749942779, cover price £7.99, genre:- General fiction.
Currently available from www.amazon.co.uk from 0.01p used or £7.19 new.
Sadie Smith is the youngest child of a poor Glaswegian family. She was born with a degenerative hip condition and is unable to walk. Her family are living hand to mouth, as her father has contracted Tuberculosis and is unable to work.
When she is 4 years old, Sadie's mother tells her that she going to have an operation to cure her hip and will be going to a place with the magical sounding name, 'Babies Castle'. Sadie is disappointed to find that the Babies Castle building is less than castle-like, but she is excited to think that she will soon be able to run and skip like her brothers and sisters. Little does Sadie realise that this is a Barnardos children's home and she will not be seeing her family again.
Sadie has her operation and makes a full recovery, she undergoes physiotherapy and is able to walk for the first time in her life. Sadie comes to accept that she now lives in Babies Castle and will remain there until it is time for her to move to a Barnardos home for older children.
When Sadie is of an age to be moved on to the next home, she is faced with the prospect of being sent abroad as part of a charitable scheme to provide 'new blood' to the colonies.
In1927, Sadie is sent to start a new life in Canada. Sadie is hopeful that she will be with her best friend Janet, but instead finds herself sent to the Trikhardts' farm in the heart of Ontario, with Robbie, a fellow Barnardos child. Robbie is a few years older than Sadie and the pair soon find that the Trikhardts, a childless Dutch couple, are harsh taskmasters. Sadie and Robbie are worked from dawn to dusk, they are paid a pitiful $3 per month and are taken out of school whenever Julius Trikhardt thinks he can get away with it.
As soon as Robbie is old enough, he runs away from the farm leaving Sadie to bear the brunt of the Trikhardt's indifference and hard ways. When Sadie is 16, a freak hurricane strikes, killing Julius Trikhardt and virtually demolishing the farm, Sadie makes her escape, much to Anna Trikhardts dismay.
The plot then follows the fates of Sadie Smith through the turbulent 1930's and 40's and beyond.
**About The Author**
Emma Blair is a 6 feet 3 inches tall, burly Glaswegian, called Iain.
No, I haven't gone mad, 'Emma Blair' is the pen name of Iain Blair, who is the successful author of some 29 romantic fiction novels!
Iain has hard a hard and very varied life, having been at different times a Shakespearean actor, journalist, play-write, lifeguard, a resident of Australia, America, Scotland and England.
The author now lives in Devon and spends six months of each year writing. The rest of his time is spent on meticulous research and enjoying life on the English Riviera
**My Thoughts and Conclusion**
I have read this novel several times over the past couple of years.
Scarlet Ribbons is a typical family saga style novel in as much as all the usual elements of that genre are present, the harsh childhood, the lucky break, poor girl making good, the romance, the 'rags to riches syndrome'! Had I written this review after my first reading of the book, I imagine I would have described it as a well written, if a little predictable piece of women's fiction.
However on re-reading, it became apparent that there is far more to this novel than just an entertaining story. The author has investigated and researched the subject matter very well in order to re-create the Barnardos Children's Charity Homes enforced emigration of children, the very situation that the central character, Sadie was affected by.
Scarlet Ribbons was first published in 1991, nearly 20 years before the Barnardos Children's Charity hit the headlines. In 2010, the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised for the UK's role in sending more than 130,000 children to former colonies where many suffered abuse.
The scheme, known as the Child Migrant Programme, sent poor children for a "better life" to countries such as Canada, Rhodesia and Australia from the 1920s to 1960s, but many of the children were abused and ill-treated.
As the strong female character of Sadie matures, her life takes on an adventurous and risky element when she becomes a pilot in Britain's Air Transport Auxiliary. I must confess to having been ignorant about this subject, but having done a little reading via the internet, I discovered that there were in fact 166 female pilots who flew fighter planes for the ATA during the Second World War. They transported the war planes from factories to air bases all over Britain as part of the war effort.
Again, this is another touch of realism within the novel, but I won't spoil the storyline for others by explaining how the heroine came to be back in England or how she learned to fly in the first place!
As a novel, Scarlet Ribbons is an amusing and entertaining read, it is well written with crisp dialogue and a wealth of believable and realistic characters. The plot is a well worn one, featuring the central character's triumph over adversity and yet there is also a strong element of social conscience within the book.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to others. Yes, the plot is a little predictable in places, but the book also gives the reader an insight into the horrors of the Child Migrant Programme and the work of the brave, civilian ATA pilots involved in the crucial war work of aircraft transportation.
A remarkable book and should this review have whetted your appetite to find out more about the *Child Migrant Programme or the **ATA, I have added a couple of links below!
Thank you for reading.
N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same user name.
*The Child Migrant Programme
**Air Transport Auxiliary