Sunday, 18 December 2016

THE PLANTER'S DAUGHTER by Jo Carroll @jomcarroll

4.5 out of 5 stars

19th century historical fiction based on fact

On Amazon UK HERE

This is an interesting and unusual novel that begins as a good, solid and readable story and gets better and better as it goes on.  The Planter's Daughter tells the story of Sara Weldon, a girl from Ireland who leaves her family in the middle of the mid 19th century potato famine to stay with an unknown, well-to-do aunt in Ireland, before falling from favour and being transported to the other side of the world.

The first chapter is told from the point of view of Kitty, the kitchen maid at the aunt's house who finds Sara on the doorstep.  This section of the book reminded me of those historical rags to riches (or riches to rags and back again) blockbusters that were so popular in the 1980s by people like Barbara Taylor Bradford, with the heroine to whom wrong is done, who vows revenge, while those who meet her are struck by not only her beauty (may or may not include tiny waist and head of auburn/raven tousled curls), but also the steely determination in her flashing emerald/sapphire eyes.  However, I always liked this sub-sub-genre, so was happy to read on!

For the second part the story moves to Australia, and a new character's point of view ~ devoutly religious Grace, who lives on a dusty small-holding/forge in the rural area near Melborne with her stepsons and own children, and takes Sara in as a maid.  Well written, well researched and highly readable, the only downside being this: I thought, "but I don't want to read about Grace's path to Australia, I want to read about Sara's."

I had it all wrong.  This is where the novel really 'kicks in', if you like.

Half way through Grace I realised I was completely engrossed, and I began to appreciate the structure.  Grace is fascinating, really quite horrible.  She's pious, more than a little self-satisfied, unable to see any views but her own.  She wears her religion like a badge, cloaking her selfishness in her delusion that she is showing others the path of righteousness.  She thinks she loves Sara, but in fact she loves only the image of her that she has created to fill the gaps in her own life.  During this chapter my inner rating hat added another star to my eventual review; it's really, really good.

Then we get to New Zealand, and Grenville, the magistrate who falls in love with Sara.  Like Grace, he is obsessed with his own image of the girl, and this obsession brings only woe to everyone concerned.  I loved this chapter; I felt that Jo Carroll really got into her stride with Grenville; her writing actually improves over the course of the book.

I very much like the showing of one character's story through the viewpoints of others, and Jo Carroll has executed this challenging format very well, though I did wish that there had been a little variation in the three chosen characters' feelings about Sara; all three adored her, longed to still her butterfly wings (sorry, getting a bit BTB saga, there), but didn't understand her at all.  I didn't know if I did, either; I hadn't met her yet.

I was in for a pleasant surprise.

In the last party we finally get to meet Sara: it's about her childhood in Ireland, life during 'the hunger', and her path to Belfast to get a ship to Liverpool.  The last part, about this journey, was outstanding, and the highlight of the book; it made sense of the whole story.  Sara was not a likeable girl at all, but seeing her as she began put it all into perspective, and I understood how clever the book is.

I had a few issues with style/format, but this is normal for a debut novel, and no one likes every single part of even their all-time favourites.  The research that has gone into this novel is apparent without ever being intrusive.  The idea comes from a true life story, and Sara's ending is shocking and surprising (don't read about the real life story first!); I was waiting for something more in line with yer typical historical saga, but it didn't happen - well, who needs predictability, after all?  The Planter's Daughter is a 'slow burner' and so much more than the tale-of-love-determination-and-revenge-across-three-continents, Taylor Bradfordesque epic that I thought it was going to be at first.  Read it.  You'll be pleased you did.  


  1. Definitely one I'll be getting to soon! Thanks for this very thoughtful and candid review, TT. It's got me more than intrigued!

    1. You'll love it, Val. At first I just thought, well, this is a nice enough, saga type story, but then it started to get really good, and I was totally absorbed by it :)