Title: The Boy with Blue Trousers
Author: Carol Jones
Published: June 17th 2019
Publisher: Head of Zeus – GB
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4.5 stars
On the goldfields of 19th-century Australia, two very different girls are trying to escape their past. 1856, China. In the mulberry groves of the Pearl River Delta, eighteen-year-old Little Cat carries a terrible secret. And so, in disguise as a boy in blue trousers, she makes the long and difficult passage to Australia, a faraway land of untold riches where it is said the rivers run with gold. 1857, Australia. Violet Hartley has arrived off the boat from England, fleeing scandal back home. Like the Chinese immigrants seeking their fortunes on the goldfields, Violet is seduced by the promise of a new frontier. Then she meets Little Cat, a woman who, like her, is trying to escape her past. As their fates inextricably, devastatingly entwine, their story becomes one of freedom, violence, love and vengeance, echoing across the landscapes of two great continents.
The Boy with Blue Trousers is a stimulating journey across the seas, taking the reader from the silk groves of China, through to the port destination of Robetown in South Australia, and finally to the fateful western goldfields region in Victoria. It is an eventful tale that interlocks the lives of two very different women, Little Cat and Violet, as they both negotiate a world that does not welcome unconventional women.
Opening in 1850s China, around the Pearl River Delta, a young woman who has just come of age named ‘Little Cat’, has to escape the sanctity of her family’s silk trade to a land afar. Little Cat has a devastating secret, and in order to save her life, she embarks on an adventure across the other side of the world. To obtain this safe passage to the wilds of Australia, Little Cat must change her identity. She becomes ‘Strong Arm’ or ‘the boy in blue trousers’. Once she lands in Australia, Little Cat is headed for the goldfields, where she hopes the riches of the earth will deliver her security and safety. Meanwhile, another young woman has recently settled in Australia, with high ambitions. Violet Hartley has come from England in a bid to escape her past. Violet becomes a governess on a sheep station, but this comes with problems. This situation leads Violet into the pathway of Little Cat and together they attempt to extradite themselves from their troubled pasts. The Boy with Blue Trousers is a hooking tale of chance, opportunity, danger, risk, aspiration, love, adventure and retribution. It follows the colourful lives of two contrasted women, who have much more in common than they first realise.
The Boy with Blue Trousers is the second novel I have read by Carol Jones. A strong cultural storyteller, the latest historical fiction piece from the very talented Carol Jones charmed me from start to finish. With the emphasis on two protagonists, across two continents, The Boy with Blue Trousers offers the reader a double edged tale, that enthralls from the first chapter to the final sentence. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to experience the writing of Carol Jones all over again, it was sensational.
There is quite a full cast in The Boy with Blue Trousers, but Carol Jones really zones in on the life and times of her two female leads, Little Cat and Violet. These two women appear vastly different from the onset. However, as the book progresses, it begins to dawn on the reader that these two women represent the lived experience of a female, of any culture or locale, during the 1800s. Life was indeed tough for all women during this time, especially for those who dared to exercise a level of independence. Although Violet in particular wasn’t always entirely an agreeable character, I appreciated her journey, as well as her attempts to fight for the direction she wanted her life to take. Heartbreaking and emotional, both Little Cat and Violet’s stories will get under your skin.
Carol Jones weaves a rich tapestry of experiences, from the east to the west. She seamlessly moves her story in gentle waves, from the delicate mulberry groves in China, through to the harsh wilds of Australia’s goldfields. Each scene is fully fleshed out by Jones and it leaves a strong impression on the reader. I was captivated by the sights, sounds, smells and varied experiences of the Pearl River Delta in China, through to breezy Robetown in South Australia and the dusty plains of the goldfields. Informed by on the ground extensive research conducted by the author, this is a vivid narrative for the audience to contend with
The Boy with Blue Trousers has an undercurrent of suspense and this helps to compound the intense atmosphere of the unfolding tale. An incident in the past involving Little Cat, which results in her dangerous journey to the other side of the world, disguised as a young man, plays out well in this novel. There is a strong sense of dread, as we know our lead is on borrowed time, she must pay for a dreadful mistake and the avenging family are consumed by retribution. This aspect of the novel moved me and although I was on tenterhooks, it transformed the novel into an exemplary title.
What made The Boy with Blue Trousers both deeply authentic and moving was the fact that this story is informed by the experiences of the pioneers of the Goldfields. The Chinese, who came to our shores in search of riches and opportunity, quickly found after their long voyage across the seas that they faced an immense trek. This hard journey was completed on foot. The experience must have been been a true test to the spirit of these pioneers. It was an eye opening, as well as an educative segment of history to be introduced to, thanks to the work of Carol Jones.
The Boy with Blue Trousers is a story of relationships, good and bad, friendships, bonds, love, disappointment, ill choices, loyalty, determination, aspiration and sacrifice. This sharply told novel from Carol Jones would easily captivate all historical fiction fans. Highly recommended.
The Boy with Blue Trousers by Carol Jones was published on 17th June 2019 by Head of Zeus – GB. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Boy with Blue Trousers, Carol Jones, visit here.
*I wish to thank the author, Carol Jones, for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Boy with Blue Trousers is book #97 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge