The Silver Thread by Kylie Fitzpatrick
|The Silver Thread by Kylie Fitzpatrick|
|Category: Crime (Historical)|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: Historic fiction fans will recognise in Kylie Fitzpatrick the quality they've come to expect from people like Philippa Gregory. In this case we're treated to a ripping adventure to warm the cockles of the imagination.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 496||Date: October 2012|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
It's 1840 and Rhia Mahoney, daughter of an Irish merchant specialising in local linen, has a comfortable life. All that changes, however, as her father's warehouse burns down, taking his faltering business with it, ensuring Rhia must make her own way in the world. Via family connections she comes to England and the home of Quaker widow Antonia Blake. The idea is that Antonia will protect Rhia whilst she seeks a position as governess in bustling, alien London. But rather than residing in a sanctuary, her problems worsen as she's enveloped in a mystery leading to transportation despite her innocence. The only things holding her life together are the letters she writes to her dearly departed grandmother, her artistic skill and a determination to discover who wants her gone.
Danish born, globally raised Kylie Fitzpatrick returns to Victorian England for The Silver Thread, an era she first explored in her previous novel The Ninth Stone. This new book was triggered by the 'Rajah Quilt', a real item sewn on board the convict ship, 'Rajah' by women en route to Australia as a gift to those who sent small luxuries to lighten the journey and sewing materials to occupy their time.
Jumping from the middle of the tale back to the beginning, Rhia may not be streetwise, coming from a more innocent background where folklore stories have been as much a part of her upbringing as her Catholic faith. However she's feisty and unappreciated in the prim Victorian world. In some ways, Rhia's a 'girl-years-ahead-of-her-time' as included by many historic novels, occasionally seeming to act out of synch with their setting. However, the author knows what she's doing and has employed her experience as an editor to ensure that nothing jars. Rhia's behaviour is validated by Antonia for whom Rhia's liberated persona would be perfectly normal, in line with her thoughts and actions as a reforming Quaker. To heck with propriety, Antonia visits prisons and tries to treat her servants as people because it's humane. She runs her own business and is used to being taken seriously, providing Rhia with both mentor and soul mate.
Talking about social reform, this novel is a Christmas stocking of contemporaneous political and social issues. There's not just prison reform and transportation, there's the effects of the industrial revolution on unmechanised businesses, the opium trade, the Irish struggle, attitudes to women, legal laxity, the birth of the Stock Exchange… the list goes on. Again, the skill of the author means that this is no history lecture as knowledge slides into place naturally while our fascination is piqued by a deadly mystery unravelling around it.
When Rhia is shipped to Australia (case of spoiler by book blurb here unfortunately) we witness the cramped, inhumane conditions on the convict ships. Recent laws mean that they're better than if the book had been set a decade before, but life remains rough, especially on Rhia's voyage. Meanwhile we're presented with has some fascinating facets in Australia. Before Rhia's arrival we see the colony through the eyes of Michael Kelly, transported convict and Rhia's friend of Rhia from the old country. We're all aware of the comparatively primitive penal lifestyle but Michael's relationship with Calvin, the local Chief Constable, is one of equality and respect. Each is as much imprisoned as the other due to the distance home. Also, as an Irishman, Michael feels for the indigenous 'originals', both having been displaced by the English. This is a refreshing viewpoint at odds with the equally prevalent but more commonly expressed prejudice felt by whites when faced with indigenous people then.
Where the mystery is concerned, it's cleverly constructed with some interesting twists. Some may be obvious but many aren't. However there's so much going on (in a good way) that it's hard to mind. As for characters, they're people rather than complete devils or angels so your choice of perpetrator will waiver making it a satisfying story that seems a lot shorter than the sum of its pages.
A special thank you to Head of Zeus for sending us a copy of this book for review.
If you've enjoyed this and fancy another tale of Victorian mystery and mayhem, we suggest Betrayal at Lisson Grove by Anne Perry.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Silver Thread by Kylie Fitzpatrick at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Silver Thread by Kylie Fitzpatrick at Amazon.com.
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