Review: Ronan’s Echo by Joanne Van Os


Title: Ronan’s Echo

Author: Joanne Van Os

Published: Macmillan Australia March 2014

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from May 05 to 08, 2014 — I own a copy   {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

In 1916, twin brothers Denny and Connor Ronan are eager to prove themselves in the theatre of war, and at eighteen find themselves in the front line trenches in Fromelles, France, having left behind the flame haired beauty Bridie O’Malley, they both love. Sadly, only one survives the horrors of war and returns home to the arms of his beloved, but he is not the same man who left.
Nearly a century later, forensic anthropologist Catriona Kelso’s curiosity is roused when she learns her next assignment will be the exhumation and identification of the hundreds of World War 1 soldiers buried en masse on the French battleground, and that her great grandfather’s twin brother may be among them. Excited by the possibility, Cat begins to ask questions about her family, but uncovers more than one long buried secret.

A poignant tale of war, love and family secrets, Ronans Echo is a wonderful story from Australian author Joanne Van Os. Set largely in Manly, New South Wales, the narrative shifts between the present and the past, revealing the tragic legacy of war that blights the lives of four generations.

Dual timelines are often tricky for authors to negotiate but Van Os does so masterfully, developing two equally interesting storylines that converge to tell the tale of the descendants of the Ronan brothers. The wartime experiences of the returned Ronan brother at the Battle of Fromelles, echos through the family tree, sparking a legacy of violence after the symptoms of PTSD overwhelm him. Though the twist to the story of the Ronan twins is heavily foreshadowed, it takes little away from the intrigue of the novel, or its heartfelt sentiment.

The scenes that depict the Ronan brothers experience of war are particularly heartbreaking. The battle at Fromelles is believed to have led to the greatest loss of life by a single division in 24 hours during the entire First World War with over 5,500 Australians killed or wounded. Until recent years, 1,335 Australian soldiers remained ‘missing’ from the Fromelles battle, having no known grave but thanks to the efforts of a retired history teacher, the remains of 452 soldiers were discovered, identified and re-interred with full military honours. This is the project Cat lends her expertise to, and where she discovers a twist in her family history.

Cat knows few details of her lineage when she begins to ask her elderly Aunt Hattie and mother, Fiona, questions about the family’s past nearly a century later. She is shocked to learn of the tragedies that ended the lives of her great grandfather and his twin, and how these secrets have affected her own life, particularly in regards to her strained relationship with her mother, and her own aversion to commitment. For Cat, unraveling the mystery of her ancestry answers questions she didn’t realise she had.

A moving exploration of the legacy of war and family secrets, Ronan’s Echo is a well crafted and eloquent novel. I found it to be an absorbing and thought provoking story which I’d recommend to readers of both historical and contemporary fiction.

*Statistics sourced from the Australian War Memorial website

Ronan’s Echo is Available to Purchase from

Macmillan Australia I boomerang-books_long I Booktopia I via Booko

Amazon AU I Amazon US




8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. brendat59
    May 09, 2014 @ 13:56:45

    Great review Shelleyrae 🙂



  2. elimy293
    May 20, 2014 @ 17:15:46

    I really didn’t like this book, I read it right after The Blue Mile, which was very similar in a lot of ways, and I guessed the ending in about chapter 3 😦



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