Title: Lady Bird & The Fox
Author: Kim Kelly
Published: April 18th 2018
Publisher: Jazz Monkey Publications
Genres: Fiction, Australian, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
No conviction, no reward.
It’s 1868 and the gold rush is spreading across the wild west of New South Wales, bringing with it a new breed of colonial rogue – bushrangers. A world far removed from hardworking farm girl, Annie Bird, and her sleepy village on the outskirts of Sydney.
But when a cruel stroke of fortune sees Annie orphaned and outcast, she is forced to head for the goldfields in search of her grandfather, a legendary tracker. Determined and dangerously naive, she sets off with little but a swag full of hope – and is promptly robbed of it on the road.
Her cries for help attract another sort of rogue: Jem Fox, the waster son of a wealthy silversmith, who’s already in trouble with the law – up to his neatly trimmed eyebrows in gambling debts. And now he does something much worse. He ‘borrows’ a horse and rides after the thieves, throwing Annie over the saddle as he goes.
What follows is a breakneck gallop through the Australian bush, a tale of mistaken identity and blind bigotry, of two headstrong opposites tossed together by fate, their lives entwined by a quest to get back home – and the irresistible forces of love.
Kim Kelly is a true pioneer in the Australian historical fiction field. Her ability to flawlessly bring to life pertinent moments in the history that shaped our nation never fails to astound me. Kelly’s latest novel, Lady Bird & The Fox is a true labour of love, it comes from her heart and is a passionate, as well as expertly told history of times gone by.
Lady Bird & The Fox opens in early settlement Australia. At the heart and soul of this tale is Annie Bird, a young farm girl, who finds her life irrevocably changed when her father passes away. The loss is felt deeply, in many facets, Annie is now an orphan, but she also finds she has been stripped of her family’s land and fortune. Complicating Annie’s situation is that she is the daughter of an Aboriginal mother, both her gender and race excludes her from any entitlement. Annie believes she has no other choice but to hit the road with her swag and embark on a journey to find her grandfather, a well respected tracker. Not long after she begins her journey to the goldfields, where she believes she may find her grandfather, Annie is robbed. Fate intervenes in the form of Jem, a disgraced gambler, who is trying to escape his debts. These two very different but headstrong individuals are accidentally thrust together. With a case of mistaken identity following the couple, Annie and Jem have no choice but to band together. In the process, they find love, friendship and understanding, despite the threats they receive to their lives.
The seventh and latest novel from the very talented Australian historical fiction author Kim Kelly, comes with a strong weight of expectation. Lady Bird & The Fox has been highly anticipated by a number of fellow reviewers and I went into reading this novel expecting great things. The good news is I was completely impressed by what I gained from reading Lady Bird & The Fox.
Firstly, I loved the placement of the main character, leading lady Annie Bird. Annie is a character that I quickly developed a sense of empathy and deep affection for this spirited young woman. After the loss of her dear father, it was an incredibly brave move for Annie to consider travelling across the country to find her grandfather. In such harsh, as well as dangerous times for anyone, especially a young woman travelling alone, this was a bold move. Annie’s strong resolve and fearless nature struck a chord with me. I am confident Annie is a character who will resonate with any reader. Annie’s journey is a tumultuous one, which gives Kim Kelly the brevity to explore issues of class, race, gender and restrictive Australian policies of the 1800’s. It really is both an eye opener and a fascinating segment of our history, but also quite regrettable. It upsets me how we treated the people of our nation in such a way.
With Annie comes Jem, the playboy of sorts and an avid gambler, who finds himself disgraced as the book begins. Jem is a character who comes full circle and his character journey is redemptive. Jem’s character also carefully drew my attention to the presence of the Jewish community in early Australian history. It was an aspect of our nation’s fabric which I sadly admit to being unaware of until this novel. I extend my thanks to Kim Kelly for increasing my knowledge and understanding of this aspect of Australia’s multicultural history. Onto Jem, Annie becomes the figure that brings out the best in him after all they endure together. Their ride across the wild and untamed lands of our deep bush is full of adventure. I loved every moment! Kelly is such a rich and varied storyteller. Many of the scenes involving Jem and Annie’s adventures had a great Australian Bonnie and Clyde feel, it was intriguing, suspenseful and very visual.
Kim Kelly’s command of her historical setting and rich Australian landscape is breathtaking. It is clear that she has devoted a great deal of time to researching her era and transferring this onto the pages of her novel with confidence. As a result, the reader is rewarded with a story told with great depth. Kelly outlines the conditions of early settlement, the fever of the gold rush, the presence of bushrangers, the deeply entrenched racism and sexism, as well as the clear class differences. Kelly provides us with a very real picture of Australia of yesteryear, complete with the rather ugly side of our policies and way of life, which marginalised so many people of our land.
Love and romance are side themes in Lady Bird & The Fox, but this aspect of the story never overtakes the seriousness of the main feature narrative. Annie and Jem’s love is a gritty kind of love, marred by danger, prejudice and persecution. These two fight hard to find happiness, but it is a story well worth your time. This raw, intimate and unique love story worked well on the pages of this memorable novel. I loved the pairing of Annie and Jem. I am sure fans of the romance and historical genres will be pleased with the presentation of this unforgettable pairing.
There is so much more I could hark on about but I feel my time is up. If you have had the pleasure of experiencing the writing of one of my most treasured Australian storytellers in the historical fiction field, Kim Kelly, Lady Bird & The Fox will be sure to send you in raptures. If I have tempted a new reader to try the exceptional work of Kim Kelly, this novel is one you must put on the top of your reading list.
Lady Bird & The Fox by Kim Lock was published on April 18th 2018 by Jazz Monkey Publications. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Lady Bird & The Fox, Kim Kelly visit here.
*I wish to thank the author, Kim Kelly, for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Lady Bird & The Fox is book #38 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge