REVIEW: THE TRADER'S DREAM BY ANNA JACOBS

THE TRADER’S DREAM
Author: Anna Jacobs
Hodder & Stoughton RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Cover of The Trader's Dream by Anna JacobsI haven’t read the first two novels in Anna Jacobs’ The Traders series so I was going in a cold when I read The Trader’s Dream. You can read it as a standalone book, but it does help readers if they know some of the back story. Luckily, Anna has notes on all of her books (she’s written more than 50) on her website, giving me all the context I needed. The series is set in Singapore and Western Australia in the 1860s, and for fans, there are recognisable character links to her Swan River Saga, such as Conn Largan (Destiny’s Path).

Bram Deagan, the “hero” of The Trader’s Wife and The Trader’s Sister, has settled in the Swan River Colony with his wife Isabella and their son, Arlen. Two years after risking everything to set up as a trader, his Bazaar is doing well enough and he’s looking at buying a home – it seems that all his dreams are coming to fruition. Except one thing. He dreams of bringing his family from Ireland to join him in Australia so they too can have better lives. He writes to the landowner in Ireland, asking him to communicate his offer of sponsoring his brothers and sisters to immigrate.

But when a typhus epidemic strikes Ireland, it leaves the Deagan family decimated. And, with other family members scattered round the world, it is left to Maura Deagan, Bram’s young aunt, to look after her orphaned nieces and nephew. The news comes just as she is promoted to Assistant Housekeeper, another rung up the ladder in the grand English house she works in; suddenly she has to take on the role of a mother figure to Brenna, Ryan and Noreen and she’s not sure she’s ready for that. When she hears of Bram’s offer, she realises this is for the best and makes plans to sail to Australia on the SS Delta.

The journey takes her through the newly-opened Suez Canal (the opening was an event Anna waited 10 years to include in a story) and introduces her to fellow passenger Hugh Beaufort. The two are instantly attracted, but are restricted from pursuing a romantic attachment for several reasons: Hugh is already married (but his wife has run off with another man) and the two come from different social classes. The second point is highlighted by a vindictive passenger who wants Hugh to notice her own daughter; when that fails, she convinces the ship’s captain that Maura’s morals fall short of impeccable. Will Maura’s long-buried dream of having her own family ever be realised?

Although Bram features in this book (he is the trader), Maura really is the heroine and the story is as much about her dream as Bram’s. She develops well as a character; although she is at first reluctant to set aside her own ambitions to take on three children, she quickly adapts to her new role and bears no grudges towards the children. She’s likeable and decent; the reader comes to hope there is a happy resolution to her romantic problems, just as much as Maura does.

Fans of Anna Jacobs will lap up this instalment to the Traders series. It’s a well-written, pleasantly light read that doesn’t demand much except your time (and maybe a “cuppa” while you read). Two more books are set to be released in 2013 for The Traders series, which will continue the story of the Deagan family (and keep fans happy).

I can see why Anna’s books are so popular with her fans – their “happy ever after” endings leave a nice, warm feeling just like a comfortable blanket and a hot chocolate on a cool night. She has a knack for telling a good story – 50+ books is testament to that. For lovers of light, romantic historical fiction yet to discover Anna Jacobs, I’d recommend giving her novels a try – check her website to see the extensive list.

The Trader’s Dream is available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Hachette Australia.

Bookish treat: Dried fruit would be good on a long voyage and much nicer than salt pork.