It follows the success of her first two historical novels, Tapestry and The Ninth Stone, both of which were translated into eleven languages.
Set during the 1800s, the novel’s hero is young Irishwoman Rhia Maloney. At 28, her life thus far has been slow-paced and steady, inching by as she spends her time at her parental home in Dublin.
The Maloney family are well-to-do, having traded with success in Irish linen for generations.
However, as industrial methods of production have become more prevalent, the price for the family’s linen has dwindled.
An accident in their storehouse leaves Rhia’s family ruined, and is the trigger for her to leave home and seek work in London where her uncle, Ryan Mahoney, awaits her.
Rhia is an un-fussy character who carries herself with stoicism and an independence of thought that set her apart.
At the same time, she shows a vulnerability that endears her to the reader as she teeters on the edge of taking the easier route that would mean her acting in the way expected of women in this period.
She is spurred on in her rebellious nature by her late grandmother, Mamo, who appears to Rhia with wise words, “Be in the world but not of it,” and to whom Rhia often writes letters.
Not long after our protagonist’s arrival in sooty, bustling London, a mysterious crime leads to her being transported to the penal colony of Australia – despite her innocence.
Fitzpatrick’s world is well-researched and many-hued, filled with references that enrich the reader’s experience of time and place. Recurring motifs pretty the prose, with every chapter named either after a type of cloth which then makes an appearance in the scene that follows, or Rhia’s references to Gaelic folklore.
The story begins to unravel fairly quickly but only after a stuttering start which may prove an obstacle for many readers. Whilst the protagonist is engaging, the supporting characters such as Antonia Blake, with whom Rhia lodges in London, or Rhia’s parents, have an artificial nature that prevents the reader from feeling fully engaged with them.
Fitzpatrick’s greatest strength, however, doesn’t lie in what she places in the foreground, but rather in the backdrop of history and myth that she weaves to paint the various landscapes of this past in a way which piques the reader’s nostalgia even at the worst of times.
Recommended for: Fans of historical novels, who will enjoy the richness relayed in Fitzpatrick’s rendering of this time: her world is ablaze with palpable change.
Other recommended reading: If you like the sound of a tale of travel across the world that sees its hero batting away obstacles, then you’ll enjoy Gregory David Robert’s much-acclaimed Shantaram.