Picture this: you are a governess living in London during the 1850s. You have little prospects for marriage and are tired of footing the bill for your brothers’ schooling. You see an ad in a church bulletin by a gentleman requiring a wife. The catch: you must move to New Zealand. Or, you are the daughter of a Welsh sheep breeder who cares little for the duties of women and would prefer to ride horses and train Border Collies, but your father disapproves of such behavior. When a visiting sheep baron tricks your father into gambling your hand in marriage to his son, you decide life in New Zealand on a sheep farm may be the answer to your problems.
Such are the fates of Helen Davenport and Gwyneira Silkham. The two women meet on the ship to New Zealand, where Helen is also in charge of a handful of orphan girls who are to be servants of some English families in the Christchurch area. Unsurprisingly, when the women arrive in Christchurch, what they find is not at all what they expect. Helen’s future husband, Howard O’Keefe, is not the gentleman farmer he pretended to be, living in the shadow of Gerald Warden, Gwyn’s future father-in-law. Howard and Gerald has a falling out years in the past and the two men despise each other. Gwyn’s betrothed, Gerald’s son Lucas, is a nice enough man but prefers to paint and tend his garden rather than learn the sheep business.
Helen and Gwyn maintain their friendship in secret while dealing with their separate struggles related to their homes and families. Both women are strong and resilient while the men in their lives — with few notable exceptions — are proud and angry. Lark writes beautiful prose, the New Zealand landscape and native people are described with vivid detail and the characters are engaging. I recommend this historical fiction novel, especially to those interested in life in Colonial New Zealand.
In addition to paperback, and MP3 audio version, In the Land of the Long White Cloud is also available free on Kindle Prime members through the Amazon lending library.
Notes on the audiobook: In the Land of the Long White Cloud was originally written in German and is part of a series about life in New Zealand, however it’s the only book to be translated to date. It’s quite the long, sweeping saga, at 19 discs and 22 hours it took me the better part of a month to finish. Anne Flosnik is a seasoned audiobook narrator and while her clipped English accent is a bit grating at first, I soon settled in and enjoyed her narration.