Book Review: Land of Golden Wattle by J.H. Fletcher

J.H. Fletcher's latest release is the story of Derwent, an agricultural empire in Tasmania, Australia, and the women that eventually take control of it. Beginning with Emma Tregellas in 1826, the story follows the trials and tribulations of Derwent's owners through seven generations to 1982, played out against a backdrop of domestic and world events.


1826, Van Diemen's Land
Seventeen-year-old Emma Tregellas has no one she can depend upon but herself. When her reckless father is killed in a duel, Emma finds herself in danger of being sold off into a marriage more like a burial

alive than a future. Aided by the man she loves, Ephraim Dark, Emma manages to flee to her uncle in the distant colony of Van Diemen's Land and obtains sanctuary with her only living relative, the wealthy but unscrupulous Barnsley Tregellas. Reunited with Ephraim, she envisages a future together but Barnsley has other ideas...

1982, Tasmania
Bec Hampton was born in the closing years of the 19th century and has maintained a steely grip on Derwent, the immense agri-empire her family had built since the early days of white settlement, when her ancestor Emma Tregellas, was instrumental in building the family's fortunes.

Now, the dearest wish of her heart is that her granddaughter Tamara Penrose inherit the farm, but her dissolute son Giles has other ideas. Will Derwent survive this threat or could it be that it will finally fall?

My Thoughts

Land of Golden Wattle is a very entertaining novel, written in what I am beginning to recognise as J.H. Fletcher's fast paced and easy to read style (read my review of The Governor's House). The story switches back and forth through multiple time frames, telling of the romance, tragedies, double crossings, lies and deceit in the lives of Emma Tregallas and Ephraim Dark, and their descendants.

From the 20,000 acres originally granted to Emma and a herd of imported merino sheep, Derwent has prospered and survived through the generations to become a a vast empire of 50,000 acres. In 1982, as Bec Hampton is coming to the end of her life, she sees Derwent being lost to the family unless her granddaughter, who shares her passion and vision for the land, can take control.

Fletcher describes the landscape so well that it is easy to fall under Derwent's spell and to understand why its loss would be so devastating. The women who eventually rule this empire are not motivated by greed, but more a desire to preserve and improve Derwent, to prove themselves capable and to ensure that only the worthy join their ranks. Not all play fair, however, using various methods to gain what they want, which is how Bec Hampton, the daughter of a blacksmith, came to preside over Derwent.

Credibility is given to the actions of the characters by Fletcher's thorough research into the historical periods over which the story takes place. He neatly factors in these details, enriching the drama as Derwent's and the family's fortunes are influenced by pivotal events. Included in these are the Victorian Goldrush, the Boer War, the Depression,and World Wars I and II. Reference is also made to the treatment of Aboriginies in Tasmania and the White Australia Policy. When the family face bankruptcy, salvation comes from an unexpected but plausible source.

While the men are called away from Derwent, some never to return, it is the women who take control and are left to battle the prejudices and conventions of their eras and, in the case of Bec Hampton and her mother-in-law, Bessie Penrose, each other.

Inheritance plays a major part in the plot. A trust is used to circumvent the normal rules of inheritance and is the cause of a bitter family rift early on, but it is also responsible for bringing the story of Derwent full circle, righting a wrong along the way and instilling hope for the future survival of Derwent and the family.

Bec Hampton's own words sum up this engaging family saga:

"The family's history is a tale of gold, wool and a lust for land; of enmity and love, blood and fulfilment; and a scandal that Bessie, at least, had been determined to conceal."

With Land of Golden Wattle, Fletcher has again successfully combined a great plot, interesting characters and Australian history. It was a pleasure to read and I am happy to recommend this book to those who are seeking a quick read and enjoy historical fiction with an Australian setting.

Thank you to Harlequin Australia via NetGalley for a free copy to read and review.

Details of how to purchase the book can be found here.

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