Review: The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

 

 

Title: The Burnt Country (Woolgrowers Companion #2)

Author: Joy Rhoades

Published: August 6th 2019, Bantam

Status: Read August 2019 courtesy PenguinRandomHouse

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My Thoughts:

The Burnt Country is the second novel from Joy Rhoades, a stand alone sequel to her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion.

Set in rural NSW in 1946, Kate Dowd is making a success of Amiens, the sheep station she inherited after the death of her father three years previously. Few admire her for it though, especially neighbouring grazier, John Fleming, and his cronies, who take every opportunity to undermine Kate’s management. Already under siege from her estranged husband, the Aboriginal Welfare Board, and the unexpected return of Luca Canali, Kate is feeling the strain, which only worsens when a bushfire rages through Longhope, a man is killed, and the community seems determined to lay the blame at Kate’s feet.

Rhoades skilfully captures the setting and period in which The Burnt Country is set. Her descriptions of the environs are evocative, and I could easily visualise Amiens. The characters of The Burnt Country were fully realised, and their attitudes and behaviour felt true to the time period.

“Kate knew: the same rules didn’t apply to her as to other graziers, to the men. If she did anything that was disapproved of the town felt, without exception, that she needed to be taught a lesson, as if she were a child.”

If I’m honest I spent most of the book frustrated by Kate, even with the knowledge of the very real societal constraints a woman of her time, and in her position would face. She was very rarely the agent of her own fate, it was really only through the actions of others that she, and Amiens, were saved.

I adored Harry, Kate’s Informal teenage ward, though. Clever, cheeky and curious, he provided some levity in tense moments. I also had a great deal of sympathy for Daisy, and her daughter, Pearl. The policies of the Aboriginal Welfare Board were (and remain) shameful.

Perhaps because I hadn’t read The Woolgrower’s Companion, I wasn’t particularly invested in Kate’s relationship with Luca, though his adoration of her was clear. I was definitely glad Kate was finally able to rid herself of her awful husband.

”For the woolgrower, the turn of the seasons and the array of assaults upon his endeavours require both constancy and seal.”

Well written and engaging, The Burnt Country is a lovely novel, one I’d happily recommend to readers who enjoy quality Australian historical fiction. As a bonus, The Burnt Country also includes period recipes from the author’s family collection, and thoughtful discussion questions for the benefit of Book Clubs.

Read an extract

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