The Widow of Ballarat – Darry Fraser

Part of the blurb from the book: “When Nell Amberton’s husband is shot dead by a bushranger, there are few who grieve his passing, and Nell least of all. How could she miss the monster who had abused her from the day they wed – the man who had already killed his innocent first wife? But his death triggers a chain of events that seem to revolve around the handsome bushranger who murdered him – a man to whom Nell, against her better judgement, is drawn.”

A friend suggested this book by lending me her book. I took the hint and read it. It’s not a story I’d normally pick for myself. I worry when I pick up historical fiction because I feel as though I’ll be inundated with historical facts overtaking the actual story. This time I was not disappointed.

The Widow of Ballarat is set in the goldfields at the time of the Eureka Stockade. It is full of historical events happening in and around Ballarat, Victoria, during the mid-1800s. However, the historical events mentioned, are not laid on thick, which allowed me to concentrate on Nell and her story. When Nell’s monster of a husband is shot dead, you’d think that life might become easier for her. Wrong. His death creates more complications. The strong-willed Nell is adamant she will not be any man’s object. She finds herself pulled in different directions; by her husband’s family, her own father, and the desire to do what is best for herself, her friends and, another wronged by her late husband’s deeds.

Nell and her friends, Flora and Flora’s mother Josie, stand together against the goldfields’ rough and tumble. I loved Josie; she made me laugh – you’ll have to read the book to find out why.

The strong messages regarding the treatment of women hold firm in our own here and now. Some moments had me sitting on the edge of my seat. I worried for Nell as she stood her ground.

This story has it all. The tense moments, enough history placing me in the setting and mood, sadness, desire “…felt the thump-thump of her heart-beat again and the rush of heat to her cheeks”, and humour (remember what I said about Josie?) to keep me reading. I found the book hard to put down and was drawn back to it as soon as possible.

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