Review: The Wreck by Meg Keneally

Title: The Wreck

Author: Meg Keneally

Published: 1st September 2020, Echo Publishing

Status: Read September 2020 courtesy BFredricksPR

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My Thoughts:

The Wreck is an engaging historical fiction novel from Australian author Meg Keneally.

Less than a year after Sarah McCaffrey’s parents are murdered while attending a peaceful protest against the cruelty of the Westminster government, Sarah is forced to flee London accused of high treason when a plan to attack the Cabinet is betrayed. Finding herself on a ship bound for the colony of Australia, her plans go awry when The Serpent wrecks against The Gap. As the only survivor, calling herself Sarah Marin, she is taken under the wing of local business owner, Molly Thistle, but even though she has come so far, her past threatens to sink her new life.

Set in the early 1800’s, The Wreck exposes what life was like for the women and men of the working class in London, left to starve when industrialisation made them redundant. Merging fact with fiction, Keneally places Sarah at the Peterloo Massacre, described at ‘the bloodiest political event of the 19th century in English soil’.

The wreck of The Serpent also draws inspiration from a true event, the sinking of The Dunbar in the mid 1850’s, which still ranks as one of Australia’s worst maritime disasters with the loss of all but one of its 122 crew and passengers, a young Able Seaman thrown onto a cliff ledge.

The township of Sydney, still in its infancy in 1820, is well described by Keneally with its crowded port and dusty streets. Though the colony is plagued with similar social issues as in London, which especially affect women, Sarah’s association with Mrs Thistle (modelled loosely on Mary Reibey) helps her to recognise there are alternatives to fostering change, that do less harm to those they are trying to help.

Keneally has created a strong-willed and resilient heroine in Sarah, though her age is never stated she is probably only in her late teens when she arrives in Australia. She has endured so much loss that her anger at the government and the ruling class is understandable. In the wake of the massacre, Sarah was easily convinced a bloody revolution could be the only answer, but once in Australia, Sarah’s opinion begins to change. I liked the friendship between Sarah and Nell, and the mentoring relationship that Keneally developed between Sarah and Mrs Thistle. The touch of romance is sweet addition too.

A well-written story of rebellion, betrayal, survival and courage, I enjoyed The Wreck.

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