The Rajah sails for Australia
180 women convicted of petty crimes.
Daughters, sisters, mothers – they’ll never see home or family again. Despised and damaged, they have only one another.
Until the murder.
As the fearful hunt for a killer begins, eveyone on board is a suspect.
Based on a real – life voyage, Dangerous Women is a tale of confinement, hope and the terrible things we do to survive.
A 15 week voyage to Tasmania, 180 female convicts on board destined for a new life on the other side of the world, leaving behind eveything they have and know, for a petty crime usually commited out of desperation. A murder on the ship; a locked room mystery…
A character driven story told in a then and now format by several key characters. Central to the story is Kezia Hayter – the ‘matron’ on the ship, there in return for free passage. She advocates for all of the women, negotiating time spent outside and exercise and seeks to support them on this one way journey. She organises a small group of the women to join her on a project creating what is now known as The Rajah Quilt. Gathering daily to sew, the group passes the time, forms relationships and develops usuable skills, part of a wider mission to improve conditions for female prisoners.
In addition to Kezia, we hear the voice of Hattie who we immediately learn is the victim of the stabbing aboard the ship. The other voice we hear from is Clara, but we don’t actually know who Clara is as she is travelling under an assumed name to avoid the gallows in England for a much more serious crime than her fellow female companions.
The story has two threads, the murder and its aftermath and the journey and creation of the quilt, told in parallel we learn about the women as they arrive on the ship and as the murder investigation, led by the captain is undertaken. Obviously the stories converge by the conclusion, as the ship arrives at its destination, the quilt is completed and the mystery solved.
I found this book to be quite slow to get into and it took me a while to familiarise myself with the characters, however a stroke of luck gave me some time to devote to reading and I was able to immerse myself in this book, reading a significant chunk during an afternoon and evening.
I was struck by the dire conditions on the ship, the punative response to women who had been sucked into crime due to desperation, poverty and violence and the bias towards blaming women. Kezia was a forward thinking character who recognised all of this and while also often silenced by men, she refused to accept this and continued to challenge the imbalances.
This was a strong piece of historical fiction, the journey, the quilt and some key characters including Kezia are real, the murder was fictional and the details of the female convicts were also fictional in respect of the descendants of these women.
If possible and if you are like me, I would suggest trying to read this book in sizeable sections, the story is very readable and the chapters are short, however as mentioned previously it did take me a little while to become familiar with the characters and this impacted on my enjoyment of the story in the early part of the book. I finished the novel feeling informed and satisfied, impressed by the story, its telling and its conclusion. Then promptly picked up my phone to google images of the quilt, and that I think is the mark of great historical fiction, it leaves the reader determined to find out more.
About the Author
Hope Adams was born in Jerusalem and spent her early childhood in many different countries, such as Nigeria and British North Borneo. She went to Roedean School in Brighton, and from there to St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She now lives near Cambridge. she also writes books for children and adults as Adele Geras.
Dangerous Women was inspired by her visit to the 2009 Quilts exhibition at the V&A in London, during which the Rajah quilt was on loan from the National Gallery of Australia.
This is a blogtour celebrating publication of Dangerous Women, you can see what others are saying about this epic work of historical fiction below.