Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Wives of Henry Oades

by Johanna Moran

*This review refers to the uncorrected proof that I received through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. I receive no compensation for reviews other than the opportunity to receive more free books in the future, and a positive or negative review has no affect on this.*

This book is due to for publication in February 2010.

In 1890, Henry Oades sets sail from England with his wife Margaret and their young family to New Zealand. His post should only last a few years, and they will return home. But tragedy strikes: Maori Indians set fire to his homestead, killing Margaret's friend Mim, and abducting his wife and children. Henry believes them to be dead. He mourns them deeply, but leaves for America and the start of a new life.

Based on a true story of a man brought up on charges of bigamy (I'm giving no spoilers beyond the title, mind), the book's foundational premise intrigues me. Especially in a time when divorce and illegitimacy carried much more of a stigma than perhaps today, what would a decent man do if, remarried after believing his first wife dead, she and his children turn up on his doorstep? I felt compassion for all involved, especially since the third-person narration is primarily conveyed through the point of view of the Mrs. Oades, Margaret and Nancy. I did sometimes wish that the family dynamics were explored more completely, perhaps telling me more about the first three weeks after Margaret shows up or fleshing out aspects of their relationship that seemed rather quickly and neatly summarized. That and the lack of details about New Zealand or California at the turn of the century made me wonder if even at 347 pages the book was a little too short. Still, Johanna Moran exhibits quite a bit of talent in her debut, particularly in making her characters feel like real people and drawing a reader's sympathy for each of them.

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