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Library Journal Review
In this accomplished first novel, McVeigh portrays the life of Francis Irvine, whose father has died and left her destitute As a woman in Victorian times, her two choices are to become an overworked nanny in a relative's household or to marry a distant relative, a doctor, Edwin Matthews, and emigrate to South Africa. She chooses marriage and while on the ship to South Africa becomes enamored with fellow passenger William Westbrook. Selfish and pampered, Francis struggles with her impoverished life as a doctor's wife, while retaining her connection with William and ignoring evidence that he might not be the man she thinks he is. After Edwin becomes involved in treating a smallpox epidemic that might bring down the diamond industry, Francis has to choose between the two men. McVeigh skillfully depicts the era and the geography, describing brutality, racism, epidemics, the diamond trade, a drought, and the landscape. Jayne Paterson reads smoothly and unobtrusively. Verdict Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction. ["Although it is crafted around a protagonist who is naive to the point of frustration and while the story line is slow to get off the ground and requires much patience on the part of the reader, the writing is solid and delivers in the end. Fans of historical fiction with romantic elements will enjoy this one," read the review of the Putnam hc, LJ 3/15/13.-Ed.]-Mary Knapp, Madison P.L., WI (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
McVeigh's distinctive first novel is a lush, sweeping tale of willful self-deception set against a political attempt to hush up a smallpox epidemic for personal wealth in late 19th-century South Africa. Frances Irvine is left destitute by her father's death after he loses his fortune in railroad speculation in England. Her choices are to leave London and go to Manchester as an unpaid nursemaid or to travel to the Southern Cape of Africa and marry Dr. Edwin Matthews, a family friend. Frances chooses Edwin, though she dreads the prospect of being his wife almost as much as staying in England. Aboard ship, she falls for William Westbrook, a lively man who sees opportunity in Africa. Once in South Africa, Frances refuses to help run the house, is disgusted by her husband's quest for justice for the Boers, and is easily swayed by pro-colonial arguments. It's difficult to retain sympathy for Frances, who refuses to face her mistakes for much of the book. By the time she takes an active part in her life, the reader is nearly out of patience. However, the sensory detail and sweep of the novel are exquisite, particularly for a debut. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, the Gernert Company. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
With its cinematic descriptions and compulsively readable plotline, this debut novel may well become a book-club favorite. Frances Irvine is left destitute after the sudden death of her father, who had overinvested in railroad stocks. Victorian London offered only limited choices to women, and so she opts for a loveless marriage to family friend Edwin Matthews, a doctor in Kimberley, South Africa. But while onboard a ship bound for the Cape, Frances falls heedlessly in love with a roguish diamond smuggler, a fact that is not lost on her husband-to-be. Life on the veld proves to be unmanageable for a London lady who can pin her hair five different ways but can't figure out how to make coffee, while Edwin works tirelessly to vaccinate Africans against smallpox, much to the consternation of the powerful diamond-mine owner. Despite her cluelessness for much of the novel, Frances proves her mettle in the end, and McVeigh's fluid prose is a pure pleasure to read. With its social-justice angle; exotic, ruggedly beautiful location; and universal theme of emotional growth, this will have wide appeal.--Wilkinson, Joanne Copyright 2010 Booklist
Kirkus Book Review
South Africa's corrupt and disease-riddled diamond industry in the 1880s serves as a gritty setting for newcomer McVeigh's historical novel about a young English woman's journey toward self-enlightenment. When Frances Irvine's father dies and leaves her penniless, she reluctantly accepts a distant cousin's marriage proposal. She considers Dr. Edwin Matthews a cold and unemotional man who's socially beneath her, but Frances hopes Edwin's practice in South Africa will one day provide her with the lifestyle to which she's accustomed. Besides, no one else has volunteered to take her in, except for an aunt who expects Frances to work as a nanny in exchange for lodging. Sharing a small second-class cabin with two other girls, 19-year-old Frances sets sail for her new home, but during the voyage, she falls in love with William Westbrook. She's convinced he loves her, too, but Frances eventually resigns herself to marrying Edwin when William fails to follow through on their plans to be together after the voyage. When she arrives at her new home, she's dismayed to discover Edwin lives in a remote area in a hovel. There are few comforts--save for a piano Edwin bought her as a wedding present--and Frances unhappily refuses to adapt to her new life. In fact, Frances views her husband with scorn and doesn't understand his preoccupation with a smallpox outbreak, which he claims is of epidemic proportion, or his defense of the rights of South African natives who work in the mines; she remains more concerned about the discomfort she faces each day due to her husband's lack of financial ambition. After they move to Kensington, though, Frances slowly realizes there's more to her husband than she first assumed, and she discovers that many people respect him, not only for his work as a medical doctor, but as a human rights advocate. Still, she believes that William, not Edwin, represents her path to happiness. Forceful and direct, yet surprisingly lyrical, McVeigh's narrative weaves top-notch research and true passion for the material with a well-conceived plot. Readers might argue that the ending's a bit weak when compared to the boldness of the rest of the story, but that's a minor issue. Overall, this story's a gem.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.