Today I am taking my turn on the blog tour for Dangerous Women by Hope Adams published earlier this month by Michael Joseph Books. This is historical fiction at it’s finest and all the more compelling for the fact it has it’s roots in fact.
Dangerous Women is the story of The Rajah and the women who sailed on her. The Rajah was a convict ship, leaving Britain for Van Diemen’s Land in April 1941. On board were 180 women, all convicted of crimes deemed serious enough to warrant transportation. In addition to the crew and the ship’s Captain, Charles Ferguson, they were accompanied by a clergyman, Reverend Davies and the ship’s surgeon James Donovan MD. A handful of the women were also accompanied by their children.
Finally travelling with the women was 23 year old Kezia Hayter. This young, well connected and educated woman was employed as matron and was to attend to the care and spiritual improvement of the convicted women. As a member of The Ladies Society Kezia had worked in prisons prior to her voyage,and it was she who designed and engineered the project that kept at least some of the women occupied on the long voyage.
For despite the inhospitable living conditions below deck, with nearly two hundred women living cheek by jowl, many of whom were sea sick and generally unwell, a chosen group of women created a masterpiece. Under Kezia Hayter’s tutelage they created the beautiful Rajah Quilt, presented to Van Diemen’s Ladies Society upon their arrival.
All of the above is documented fact, retold in vivid strokes through the words of Hope Adams. But it is the imaginings of the voyage and the twist that the author adds that really fires this story along.
When young Hattie Matthews, a young mother, is stabbed on deck the routine of life that has quickly established is disrupted. Suspicion and fear stalks the ship and an investigation into the crime is hastily begun. The only women on deck at the time were the 18 needle women working on the quilt. But which one wanted Hattie dead? And was willing to jeopardise their own life and future? And will Hattie be the only victim?
As the story unfolds, so do the stories of the women on the ship; each one tied to her own past, each with her own reasons for being there. Some like the infamous Newgate Nannies are repeat offenders, hardened by a life of crime and poverty, some innocent victims of circumstance. And some, like the mysterious Sarah Goodbourne, shouldn’t be there at all…
This is a story told with empathy and skill. It is rich in period detail, the closed atmosphere of the ship’s community is both alive and claustrophobic. Each of these women are given a voice and through their perspectives we see the effects of poverty, lack of opportunity and crucially lack of power. From the well educated Kezia Haynes to every women living below the decks, we see the fight for survival, the fight to have a women’s voice heard and the fight to be valued in their own right.
Alive with strong women characters and a vibrant, well plotted story this is a story to get lost in. It is also a story that will lead you to others. One for the forever shelf.
And there is more…
For more reactions and reviews to Dangerous Women check out the rest of the blog tour below…