The Exiles

Morrow. Aug. 2020. 384p. ISBN 9780062356345. $27.99. F
Employed by a London family as governess, Evangeline is seduced by the young master of the house. When she is found to be in the family way and fired from her position, in a moment of rage she shoves the maid who revealed her secret and is thrown into prison. She is found guilty of attempted murder and soon on her way to Australia aboard a convict ship. Dreadful conditions, worse food, and predatory sailors make the voyage a living hell for the female convicts, but Evangeline makes a friend in herbalist and midwife Hazel. Not all survive the months-long voyage, but those who do discover that Australia may just provide the sanctuary they need if they have the strength to claim it. Although men are credited for “discovering” and “taming” Australia, they play a very small role in this 19th-century-set novel from Kline (A Piece of the World), which tells of the women’s stories—not only that of the convicts, but also those who came freely, and, most important, those who were there first—the Aboriginal people.
VERDICT Both uplifting and heartbreaking, this beautifully written novel doesn’t flinch from the ugliness of the penal system but celebrates the courage and resilience of both the first peoples and the settlers who came after, voluntarily or not, to create a new home for themselves and their children. [See Prepub Alert, 2/24/20.]
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