A Precious Daughter by Diane Allen
In 1896, Amy is fourteen years old. She lives in Dentdale on a small farm with her parents and grandparents. As peaceful and lovely as her life is, wandering the dales with her friend Joshua, it looks like she will soon be forced to discover a whole new life. Her father Ethan wants Amy and her mother Grace to go with him to the goldfields of the Klondike, to make their fortunes. Her grandparents are appalled – to leave the security of a home that Grace and Amy have always known to a whole new world with the unreliable ex navvy Ethan for a distant chance of making a fortune seems such a bad idea. Certainly the unbelievable challenges of a long voyage and the near impossible journey to overworked land proves to be an overwhelming experience for the little family; and not everyone will survive.
This is a fascinating and emotional read of a young woman’s progress through various places in search of what she really wants from life. Its themes include the sheer hard work expected of those prospecting for gold in the nearly unsurvivable world of harsh winters and slender living conditions. It also provides a many layered picture of Liverpool, a port city of poverty and hope, of daily challenges and memorable characters. Throughout this well researched and interesting book the story of Amy flows through, a self possessed young woman who wants to find her way in a world with many challenges. The historical setting is so well realised that the sights, sounds and even smells of the places seem to come alive. This is an author who has developed a real sense of place in her writing, and yet the central element is the characters, those who reappear and those who inhabit the pages for a short time. This is an entertaining and engaging book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.
As the book begins Amy is walking in the countryside with Josuha, bitter and apprehensive about her father’s plans. Joshua says that he will always be there, but they both know that her journey will not be easy. Amy’s grandfather George knows that Ethan is not making a sensible decision, and that even the comparatively easy job of being a station porter as he is supposed to be at the moment is often beyond him. The older man is furious that Ethan has claimed money from the local charitable funds, and sees it as further evidence of his underhand cunning. When the narrative goes on to describe how awful the journey for Grace, Amy and Ethan is, how dangerous and reckless, there is a sense of anger that Ethan is willing to risk the women’s lives for a dream. The harshness of the conditions of their destination is only slightly alleviated by Amy’s willingness to make the best of their situation, and the relative kindness of some strangers. When the worst happens there is real trauma for the young woman, but her resilience carries her through, so that when she is placed in an entirely different situation back in Britain, she must readjust again. Her ability to make the best of her circumstances is remarkable, especially as others around her are struggling.
This is a big story of people’s lives at the end of the nineteenth century, as new opportunities and worlds open for some, while others struggle with their own set circumstances. The dialogue and characters are very well observed, while the author has a keen eye for the clothes and other objects that fill the settings of the story. This is a carefully written story which details some memorable characters and their pursuit of life and more. For those who enjoy female led dramas of the early twentieth century this will be a real treat, while everyone will find this a well written story.