Where Fortune Lies (HQ Fiction, 2020) is the fifth novel from Australian author Mary-Anne O’Connor, and tells the story of plucky migrants finding their way in rugged colonial Australia in the early 1880s.
By age seventeen, Anne Brown has seen her mother suffer at the hands of her drunken father her entire life, and has vowed to avoid the attentions and advances of men forever. But when tragedy befalls her on Beltane, she is forced to flee to London, and thenceforth to colonial Victoria where she must use everything she’s got to survive.
Wealthy London aristocrat siblings Mari and Will Worthington seem to have life figured out, until an enigmatic prostitute swindles them out of their family fortune. Their lives and social standing ruined, with their painter friend Charlie Turner in tow they resolve to pursue her to colonial Australia to get their money back.
In Australia, a successful winemaker is looking for someone of good social standing to bring his delicate daughter into the good company she would surely keep, were it not for her father’s own lack of aristocratic status, and her brothers’ wild and risky behaviour.
And up in the Snowy Mountains, those wild brothers, recently cut off from their dad’s money, are getting involved with some extremely shady bushrangers.
Jeez I loved this book. It was such a pleasure to read. It was a rollicking great yarn, filled with the kind of superb scenic descriptions that we have come to expect from Mary-Anne O’Connor. Reading O’Connor is a treat. She knows her characters well and weaves their stories in together in a manner that made me excited to come back to this story each night. Her intimate knowledge of the world of art, inspired by her painter father, the late Kevin Best, shines through in the way she describes not only the creative pursuits of Charlie Turner, but in breath-taking imagery of the bush and the Snowy Mountains. You can really feel how small these intrepid folk would have felt travelling in amongst nature’s grand cathedral of trees, vulnerable and wholly out of place.
I also enjoyed the way that O’Connor contrasted the world of the wealthy and genteel with the lives of non-wealthy migrants in the early days of European colonisation, and the way in which this wealth disparity affected their lives both in and away from the city. Additionally, while not specifically about Indigenous Australian experiences, it was refreshing to see that this novel is sensitive to the fact that Indigenous Australians had been the original inhabitants and explorers of the lands upon which the story is set.
From a scholarly point of view, I was very interested in the way that O’Connor progressed the layers of tension in the story. At first I found it difficult to feel sorry for the newly impoverished rich folk, but the nuanced world of the band of bushrangers balances out the quests of the British protagonists well, with Ivan Reed one of the most formidable and genuinely evil characters I’ve seen in a long time. But it wasn’t black and white, with the politics and tension within the bushrangers’ group itself providing much food for thought.
This book made my heart sing. Five stars.
Where Fortune Lies will be released on March 23, 2020.
Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.