The Literature Hub
Reviewed by Ashleigh
Author: Deborah Challinor
Publisher & Pages: HarperCollins, 495 pages
Blurb: When Tamar Deane is orphaned at seventeen in a small Cornish Village, she seizes the chance for a new life and emigrates to New Zealand.
In March 1879, alone and frightened on the Plymouth quay, she is befriended by an extraordinary woman. Myrna McTaggart is travelling to Auckland with plans to establish the finest brothel in the southern hemisphere and her unconventional friendship proves invaluable when Tamar makes disastrous choices in the new colony. Tragedy and scandal befall her, but unexpected good fortune brings vast changes to Tamar’s life. As the century draws to a close, uncertainty looms when a distant war lures her loved ones to South Africa.
This dramatic story – the first in a sweeping three-volume family saga – has a vivacious and compelling heroine who will live with the reader long after the final page has been turned.
Highlight: It’s historically accurate.
Caution: It seems like two different books in one.
Highlight: The first half of the book hooks you in and makes you want to read more.
Caution: The second half of the book sometimes skips months at a time.
Review: I wanted to give this book 5 stars, I really did. I’ve read another book by Deborah Challinor before, and I loved it. I had hoped that Tamar would be just as amazing, but sadly I was disappointed.
That’s not to say that this wasn’t a good book. From page one it had me hooked. The main character, Tamar Deane, had fantastic character development. The settings throughout the book were well described. The first half of the book was so intense and so amazing. Sadly, then came the second half of the book.
We start out with Tamar Deane waiting to emigrate to New Zealand from England. She’s an orphan with no remaining family, and decides to start afresh in the “land of opportunity”. If only. The journey to New Zealand, while being very historically accurate, was fascinating. She met a variety of characters, including many prostitutes, a doctor, and a Madam. Once she gets to New Zealand, Tamar Deane gets herself a job, finds her own accommodation, and falls in love with a tall, dark and handsome man. Every girls dream, right?
Then things go to hell (not literally). Once Tamar marries her Prince Charming, the book touches on many controversial topics. Racism, domestic abuse, alcoholism, adultery, illegitimacy…the list goes on. This book includes many trigger topics which, while making a fantastic read, held this book back from being a complete 5 stars.
It’s not often I make a judgement to rate a book lower because of the topics written about in the story. In fact, I think the author handled these topics beautifully. They were handled with grace and dignity, and I was very impressed. But while that may be the case, it seems that later on, when Tamar marries her second husband and finally gets her happily ever after, the topics are never touched on again.
For example, while Tamar’s first husband was furious and hurt by Tamar’s illegitimate half-caste son, her second husband accepted the child as if it wasn’t the result of a major social faux pas of the 1800s. Everything is fine, and Tamar and her second husband build a relationship with the child. He accepts the child into the family with no problems. It’s an action totally at odds with the rest of the world in the story. It’s so out of place. The author has made a big deal about these topics, and then all of a sudden they are never mentioned again and everything is perfect.
Until the second half of the book, which is mainly told from the illegitimate son’s point-of-view. This is why I’m really, REALLY annoyed.
The second half of the book is a complete departure from the first half. Sure it has the same characters, but the story in the second half has no relation to the first. All those problems and issues Tamar has and deals with in the first half? The author may as well not have written about them, as it seems like she forgot that the first half of the book existed!
You may be wondering why I’m choosing to rate this book 3 & ½ stars if all I’ve done is complain about it. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t all bad. While the two halves of the story bear almost no relation to each other, they were both very well written.
The first half was superb. It had me hooked. The historical accuracy was so painstakingly perfect and it was described so well that I actually felt like I was living in Auckland in the late 1800s. I truly felt a part of Tamar’s world. And the controversial trigger topics were handled with honour, something not a lot of authors could pull off.
The second half of the book was a bit of a let down, but it was still written well. It touched on issues of identity, and it dealt with the realities of war and occasionally those left behind. Unfortunately, there were time jumps of months at a time, and I couldn’t get into the story as much because I had to keep going back and checking the date of each new chapter. It involved a lot of flipping around, which detracted from the story.
However, this is the first instalment of the Children of War trilogy, so maybe the next two books will be better.
Star Rating: 3 ½ Stars
Available in: Paperback, eBook