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*** The Author ***
The author's real name is Eleanor Alice Burford, but she wrote under many pseudonyms.
I have enjoyed many of her historical fiction stories, attributed to Jean Paidy, which follow the facts of real people and events closely. There are over 100 of these from British, Italian and French history.
This is the first book that I have read which is attributed to the pseudonym Victoria Holt. Although under this name she still wrote historical fiction, it is in the more recent past, and the characters are made up from the types that existed, rather than ones that actually did. I am aware of 32 books attributed to Victoria Holt and all but 4 are set in the Victoria era.
Being a prolific author there are other pseudonyms that I still haven't tried yet. These are Philippa Carr (The Daughters of England family saga series), Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Ellalice Tate, and Anna Percival.
*** Writing Style ***
In reviews of her historical books set longer ago than the ones written under the name of Victoria Holt, I have criticised her for too much repetition of central facts. With hindsight, I guess she was acting in a role of teacher as well as trying to entertain when writing these. I think this because I didn't notice any repetition of facts in this Victoria Holt story.
Also missing in this book is the old fashioned writing style I have become used to from the author as Jean Plaidy. As she lived between 1906-1993, I imagine she could have got some ideas for books in more recent historical times, like this one, from older relatives and friends. Because of her thoroughness for historical detail, she would have backed these sources up with more academic ones though.
In fact the writing style was sufficiently different that I would not have realised it was the same author, although both are easy to understand.
The publishers call this a Gothic romance. I didn't know what they meant by that before reading the book, but I now understand it to be a romance with at least one dark side to it.
All the main characters are well-developed but I think the most entertaining are the ones with the deepest dark side. There are many scheming characters full of greed and/or a desire for revenge in this book.
While I found the Australian adventures in the first half the most compelling, I was also intrigued by the mysterious deaths, but not the romance, in the second half of the tale. However, readers who like romance may like the second half best.
*** Background to Plot ***
This is set in the 19th century, at the time when convicted criminals were sent from Britain to do hard labour in Australia, and one of these men is central to the plot.
Two of the female characters take it in turns to narrate the story.
The strong and confident Nora tells the first half of the tale, which is mostly spent in rough and remote, but often beautiful, parts of Australia. The descriptions of their natural wildlife, as well as the habitat, made the escapades here especially appealing to me. This, combined with a lot of adventure, including potentially fatal prospecting for gold and bush fires, made this the best part for me.
Some of the beauty has, however, been destroyed. Trees have been cut down to make room with the primitive "tent towns" where the gold prospectors live. Also the mining for gold creates an eyesore. The search for gold becomes like a fever to many, who risk losing everything in the hope of making a fortune. Among the lives this fever cost was that of Nora's father, which readers hear about at the beginning of the book.
It is in Australia that readers meet the wealthy, physically powerful and ruthless man nicknamed Lynx. Although already a financial success, he is mercilessly ambitious for more, in a setting where life is cheap and death often comes early.
There is also some searching for the ideal wife/husband, but this is seen from a selfish viewpoint rather than a loving one. Greed and revenge are the overriding emotions in this half.
The traditionally feminine Minta, with a family history and home that she can trace back to Tudor times, and the independent adventurous Nora, from a much less influential background, share the telling of the second part, which is all in England. Greed and revenge are still driving forces, and there are mysterious deaths, but this is the part where some of the characters appear to find good romantic partners.
*** Recommendation ***
I would give the first half 5 stars for the plot, but only 4 stars for the second half, because I preferred the adventures in Australia to the exploits in a more familiar English setting. The main characters are all consistently well described, and I felt I knew them all well by the end.
Try this if you think you would like life threatening adventure mixed with romance, with a strong cast of differing characters.
Paperback: 425 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; New Ed edition (2 Jul 2007)
Set in the wild Australian gold country and a gracious English mansion, this is a story of violent emotions, of great injustice and a grudge which lasted a lifetime. When Nora Tamsin arrives in Australia she finds herself under the guardianship of the powerful, terrifying, and irresistibly fascinating Charles Herrick, known as the Lynx. Everyone around her seems to be obsessed with the search for gold; an obsession so compulsive that it drives people from their homes to destitution, and even to death. Stirling Herrick wants it because his father did; and the Lynx himself seems determined to find it if only to exact some kind of revenge. Caught up in a violent world where life is held cheaply, Nora is both intoxicated by the gold rush climate and overwhelmed by the power of the mighty Lynx. Unable to desist, she becomes involved in his murderous schemes, returning to England, and to Whiteladies House.