The Silk Thief by Deborah Challinor – 2014

silkThe Silk Thief is the latest and third of four books in Challinor’s The Convict Girls series.  I hadn’t read the previous two and that wasn’t a bad thing, as I loved being plunged into the deep end of the lives of three women serving out their sentences bonded to masters or mistresses in the smelly bustling and dangerous Sydney of the 1830s.  Harrie, Friday and Sarah all arrived in Sydney on the same transport ship and are still playing out dramas that took place on board.  If you have read the previous instalments it would just read through, but if not Challinor cleverly weaves the complex background into the current plot.  Sarah is a skilled thief, currently happily married to the Jeweller to whom she is bonded.  Friday is working as a prostitute for a very understanding Madam, Friday reminds her of her deceased daughter so Elizabeth is supportive and sympathetic to Friday’s horrendous drinking problem.  And Harrie is working for Nora, another supportive woman, and she also works for tattooist Leo Dundas.  Harrie is struggling with guilt over various incidents, a state made considerably worse when the infant daughter of a woman who was transported on the same ship is placed in danger.  The bond between the three women, and the other main players in their universe, is the strength of the book: there are terrible crimes, blackmail, tragedies, deceit and lots of misunderstandings, but the women’s friendship is the solid core in the swirl of events that holds the plot together and also engages the reader.  And Challinor is unapologetic in her use of strong women to drive the plot; even the most evil of the bad characters is a woman: Bella Jackson.  There are sympathetic male characters, Adam the jeweller, Leo the tattooist and Dr James Downey (Harrie’s romantic interest) but they are ancillary to the women’s story.  The descriptions of 1830s Sydney are rich, you can almost smell the heat and stench, and all the characters are intriguing; I particularly liked the entry of the Ngapuhi rangatira, his wife Mahuika,  daughter Aria and entourage, with their almost vampiric  beauty.  I am so glad I finally picked up a Challinor, she is a fine story-teller.

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