Top positive review
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An epic story, full of colour and excitement - a really good read
on 10 November 2012
This is a book on a huge scale. It reminds me of those magnificent Technicolor epics made in the late fifties and early sixties depicting pioneer life in the Old West, except that In the Land of the Long White Cloud is set mostly in New Zealand rather than the USA.
The book mainly concentrates on the lives of Helen Davenport, a governess in her late twenties drawn to New Zealand in search of the husband she is unlikely to find in Victorian London, and Guineira, daughter of Lord Silkham, who, in effect, loses her in a bet with a New Zealand wool baron. Helen is put in charge of six orphans destined to be servants. She and Guineira meet on the journey to New Zealand and their lives are entwined from that point on.
New Zealand is not what either was expecting, Christchurch being little more than a village, and their prospective husbands are not really what they were expecting either, but there is little option but to proceed as planned. So we follow their lives and watch how society in New Zealand begins to develop, thanks to the efforts of pioneers, entrepreneurs, rogues and misfits.
It would be impossible to give a summary of the plot without either diminishing it or acting as a spoiler. Suffice to say that what happens is often exciting, sometimes upsetting and always plausible. The characters of Helen and Guineira are sympathetic and you can identify strongly with them. Although they are strong characters, they are not those intensely irritating heroines who can overcome every travail put in their way. They are nineteenth century women living nineteenth century lives. Some of the other people you may feel you have met before, but it doesn't really matter as the story is strong enough to sustain them.
Initially I was a bit daunted by the size of the book - it is over eight hundred pages long and is heavy - but it reads at a rollicking pace and I finished it in a much shorter time that I had expected, having been completely immersed in the story, really enjoying the experience.
A word of warning - if you like your historical novels to be written in a form of language that sounds authentic to the period being written about, you may find that this book grates. The language is contemporary and uses words and idioms that are completely foreign to the nineteenth century. I was surprised to find that it was originally written in German. The translation is excellent as it doesn't fall into any of the traps that renditions from the German usually set.
So, this is an excellent book for cold winter evenings - it will transport you to the much more exciting and stirring times of nineteenth century pioneer life on the Canterbury Plains and the uplands of New Zealand - a really good read.