'I'm a daughter of my homeland. We're Irish. It's all we need to know.''This isn't Ireland, Niamh.' Kilkenny Pat cut through her words. 'It's a new country.
Even the English aren't English here.'
It is 1854 and Ballarat is teeming with miners, dreamers and rebels. On the eve of the Eureka Stockade battle, Fintan Donovan is fighting private battles of his own. Torn between his Irish upbringing and his friendship with an English boy called Matthew Ward, Fintan must make a stand. Will he be dominated by the hatreds of the old world or will he find a new way to live in the new country?
Vivid and powerful, The Valley of Blood and Gold evokes a moment in history that is entrenched in Australian national heritage. (from publisher's site)
modern day (preserved-ish) Sovereign Hill in VIC
Well, gosh. I was pretty pumped about the premise of this book. Ever since I went to Sovereign Hill in Ballarat (as a girl) I have been fascinated with the bush-ranger/gold panning era and haunted by the story of the Eureka Stockade.
Plus, who doesn't love an Irish narrator?
The Valley of Blood and Gold is a book you easily sink into . It begins with an authentic flavour that matches the era and the narrators heritage. Like the Australian landscape in the 1800's, the book has a dusty, raw, brave and tough vibe to it.
Our narrator, Fintan, is an Irish teen, orphaned and living with an enigmatic and unaffectionate widowed Aunt and his two little cousins. His uncle (aunt's brother) is around a bit, jovial and caring ~ yet no one will talk to Fintan about what happened to his parents or who they were ~ the plot-line about the mystery surrounding his deceased parents deepens and builds throughout the book, creating mystery and leading into the climax.
As for Fintan ~ he's right on the cusp of no longer being a child and not quite an adult. He There's a sense of adventure and wonderment buzzing in the book despite how hard life was for immigrants during that era.
So... as for the vibe of this book? It very much reminded me of some of Jackie French's work. Historic and authentic and a great mix of English and Irish settlers who have the unmistakable beginnings of an Aussie spirit. The setting and era really make the work stand out as a fantastic backdrop for one boys story.
As for the plot? The actual Eureka Stockade battle is only a small slice of the climax (I actually would have liked more detail with the battle ~ it did inspire me to google and refresh my memory about it all). The story itself is one of forbidden friendship, family secrets, bush-rangers and life and survival in early Australian times.
I LOVED lots of the characters names which felt authentic and, well, full of character: Kilkenny Pat (Fintan's uncle), Lawson King (a bush-ranger), Niamh Donovan, Mumyareum (aboriginal lady)
There's bush-rangers. And murders. And a hanging of a belovedcharacter ~ which is sad and startling.
There's a cool plot-line about building a bridge and a sense of beginning something new in a wild and exciting land.
I loved the Epilogue. I think it worked brilliantly to bring a greater depth to the story ~ being able to revisit the characters years on and see what the future held for them.
Recommended: The Valley of Blood and Gold is a fine addition to the Aussie YA scene ~ with it's vivid depiction of Australian life in the 1800's. The characters are true 'characters', lively and raw, they keep the pages turning. With it's quiet sense of humour and a steady pacing, it's a historical book that can capture your mind and transport you to a fascinating time and place. I really enjoyed it and think it will have great appeal to Aussie teens, and boys especially ~ with it's relatable male narrator.