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Behind the Sun by Deborah Challinor
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Behind the Sun (edition 2013)

by Deborah Challinor

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Member:shelleyraec
Title:Behind the Sun
Authors:Deborah Challinor
Info:Sydney South, N.S.W. : HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
Tags:Australian author, historical

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Behind the sun by Deborah Challinor

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I always feel a sense of guilt when I’ve left a review book on the pile for some time, but this time I feel really, really guilty. Why? Because Behind the Sun is a fantastic book, exactly the type of historical fiction that I really enjoy reading. The only commiseration I have for letting it linger is that I don’t have to wait as long for the second book in this series to be released (sometime in 2013).

If you enjoyed The Potato Factory or Australian colonial history, you’ll love this book. It is loaded with historical detail (I would have read this book more quickly had I not stopped to do further research on Seven Dials, prison hulks, Newgate Gaol and Parramatta Female Factory amongst others) and the characters are all distinctive and multifaceted with engaging (if sad) stories to tell. Let me tell you about each of them…

Friday Woolfe is a prostitute known to the law. When the theft of a gentleman’s goods is discovered, she’s sent to gaol with the promise of transportation to the far flung Sydney Town. Behind a cunning knowledge of London’s underworld lies a good heart and a sense of justice to her friends. Harrie Clarke is a thief – drawn to desperation to try to feed her mother and siblings. She’s soft and kind-hearted, the mother hen of the group. Sarah Morgan was a jeweller, but is now one of the best thieves in London. When the leader of the gang dobs her in, she’s sent to prison. Alert and calculating, she never misses an opportunity. Finally, Rachel Winter had eloped with a soldier only to find herself on trial for theft. Naïve, but with a wild streak in her, she is the youngest of the crew who Friday, Harrie and Sarah all look out for.

The plot is simply summarised, but compelling – each of the girls’ crimes, time in Newgate, the ship journey and arrival in Sydney. The friendship between the girls is strong and they look out for each other against fellow inmates, unscrupulous men and the turnkeys (or prison wardens). Various events lead to the need for money and protection, with each of the girls learning how far they will go for a true friend.

Challinor’s strengths beside her characters include the ability to retell history in a fascinating way. Like I mentioned previously, I did some of my own research just because I wanted to find out more about the times when Friday, Harrie, Sarah and Rachel lived – what did the places look like? What other things were they expected to do in the gaol? She has really brought the period to life. There are also enough plot threads loose for ample material for the sequel, Girl of Shadows. (I must admit though, I really want to know more about an event regarding Mr Downey from the ship and his findings to see if my own suspicions are correct!) There will be four books in this series and I’m really looking forward to reading them to learn more about my country’s history – and see what the girls get up to!

Thank you to Harper Collins Australia and The Reading Room for providing me with a copy of this book.

http://samstillreading.wordpress.com ( )
  birdsam0610 | Apr 1, 2013 |
Inspired by the lives of Deborah Challinor’s ancestors, Behind the Sun is the first installment of a historical fiction series featuring four convict women transported from England to New South Wales in the late 1920′s.

Incarcerated in Newgate goal, Friday Woolfe, a streetwise prostitute, befriends Harriet Clarke, a timid seamstress, the prickly thief Sarah Morgan and the young and desperately naive Rachel Winter. The unlikely foursome form a bond that supports them through the trials of imprisonment, the long journey to Australia and the unknown fate that awaits them in Sydneytown.

I have always been fascinated with this period of Australian history and particularly enjoyed Behind the Sun for it’s historical detail. Challinor holds a PhD in history and the novel reflects her knowledge, though she admits to tweaking a fact or two to better tell the story.

The novel begins in England where we are introduced to the women and their crimes. All stand accused of theft of some type and are incarcerated in London’s notorious Newgate Goal awaiting sentence. It is Friday and Harriet who first find each other, shortly joined by Sarah and Rachel. Their disparate personalities create an interesting dynamic whose strengths and weaknesses all contribute to their survival. Friday is afraid of nothing, Harriet is calm and practical, Sarah is clever and calculating and surprisingly Rachel, who claims to be 15 but is only 13, turns out to be quite the card shark, growing the funds the women need to buy meagre comforts within prison.

Much of the novel focuses on the journey to Australia where one hundred and fifty women were crowded onto a ship for the 7 month sail. Life aboard the ship is difficult though the women find their own ways to endure, Harriet becomes an assistant to the ship’s doctor, Friday continues to ply her trade with the ship’s crew. Rachel however falls victim to Bella Jackson, a notorious and ruthless madam, whose manipulations results in tragedy for Rachel, leaving her friends swearing to take their revenge.

Arriving in Sydney the women are taken to the Parramatta Female Factory before being re-assigned. Despite being separated the women continue to support each other, especially when tragedy strikes again.

With strong characterisation, Behind the Sun is a fascinating exploration of women’s history in Australia and an enjoyable read. I Challinor plans to follow up Behind the Sun with ‘Girl of Shadows’ (expected in 2013) and I am looking forward to reading more about the women’s adventures in SydneyTown. ( )
  shelleyraec | Jan 3, 2013 |
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Friday Woolfe, is in London's notorious Newgate gaol, awaiting transportation. There, she meets three other girls: intelligent and opportunistic thief, Sarah Morgan, naive young Rachel Winter, and reliable and capable seamstress, Harriet Clarke. On the voyage to New South Wales their friendship becomes an unbreakable bond.… (more)

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