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Captivating, Brilliant and Wholly Believable: Review of The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoades

August 6, 2019

A scandalous secret. A deadly fire. An agonizing choice. The Burnt Country is an enthralling story of integrity, resilience and resistance, from the author of the bestselling The Woolgrower’s Companion.

This was the historical fiction novel of my dreams. It’s 1948 in country Australia and Kate Dowd is a savvy, strong and smart young woman. She runs her own sheep station – Amiens– and you can just imagine how difficult it was for a woman to be a business owner at that time. She’s expected to fail, it’s just a matter of time. Her neighbours doubt her methods of backburning, forcing her to stop her burning off, while doing almost none themselves. They gossip about her husband Jack, absent for days on end and only returning to cause trouble. Plus, Kate has already made herself a target by acknowledging her half-sister Pearl, who is under threat of being taken away by the Aborigines Welfare Board. The last thing she needs is for her wartime lover, Luca Canali, to be back in town…

Trouble really starts for Kate when Jack announces he is filing for a divorce. He’s promised to keep Kate’s reputation intact, and even leave Luca out of it. But the price of his promise is not cheap. And after a very dry winter, the whole community is on edge. If they don’t get rain soon, it’ll be peak conditions for a bushfire. When a catastrophic real fire threatens everything Kate has worked so hard for, tensions come to a head and the sheep station of Amiens is at the centre.

This book is absolutely stunning. It is captivating, brilliant and wholly believable. Kate is one of the strongest female characters I’ve ever read. Her strength in the face of the disrespect she is given is inspirational. If all female characters were written with the strength and grace Kate has, there would be no shortage of strong females to look up to.

While The Burnt Country is the second novel, following The Woolgrower’s Companion, it can be read as a standalone. The story is gripping, the characters are oh-so-real, the themes very topical. Joy Rhoades has created an Australian historical masterpiece. I will be recommending this book to everyone I talk to. Completely engaging.


Buy a copy of The Burnt Country here.

About the author:

Joy Rhoades was born in Roma in western Queensland, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. Growing up, she loved two things best: reading and the bush, whether playing in creek beds and paddocks, or climbing a tree to sit with a book. Her family would visit her grandmother, a fifth generation grazier and a gentle teller of stories of her life on her family’s sheep farm.

At 13, Joy left Roma for Brisbane, first for school and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over: first Sydney, then London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. It was in New York that she completed a Masters in Creative Writing at the New School University, and wrote much of The Woolgrower’s Companion, a novel inspired in part by snippets of her grandmother’s life and times.

She now lives in London with her husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.


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