I haven’t read too many historical romances that take place in Australia. At first, I thought September Moon was going to be just like those American Historicals that take place on the frontier – lots of hardship, wildness and danger. It is. And yet, it is different. Ms. Proctor brings all the strangeness and wildness of Australia to life, and creates a story as well, of two very real people who grow as individuals and learn what love and trust are all about.
After Amanda Davenport refuses to leave her dying employer as the ship that holds her ticket to England leaves port, she is very nearly penniless and completely alone in Australia. There is not much a very well educated woman can do in society – she discovers quickly that in Australia, women are not hired as secretaries. Her only option is to hire out as a governess, and the only person who is willing to hire her lives in the wilds of Australia. In desperation, and despite all she has heard about the dangers of the Outback, she takes the job and heads to the O’Reilly run – a huge sheep ranch located in a very scarcely populated area. Patrick O’Reilly has three wild children who he wants to educate, so he is willing to pay a governess well and take a chance on someone without much experience.
September Moon is full of atmosphere. The dryness, the danger, the wildness, and the beauty of the Outback are described wonderfully. Readers learn what sheep ranching was like in the past, how locals and foreigners reacted to the Aborigines, how people survived, what dangers they faced, and what social customs were practiced.
Along with atmosphere, September Moon has some very sympathetic characters. Amanda and Patrick are two intricate people. They are weak in some ways and strong in others – they change as the story progresses, learning about themselves and each other in such a gradual, believable way.
The children, on the other hand, aren’t as well developed or believable. In fact, I was appalled a few times with the cruelty of the older two children in particular, and Patrick’s lack of concern:
O’Reilly had spent the last six years watching his son make life hell for a succession of nervous, impotent gentlewomen. He had seen governesses thrown into rages, reduced to tears, even driven to near madness. And not once had he seen the boy betray the least sign of remorse for any of the things he had done to them.
This said to me that Australia would soon have a serial killer on its hands. Because Patrick was unable to teach his children compassion, I respected him less than I would have otherwise. The children do all sorts of horrible and even life-threatening things to Amanda, which include the use of stinging ants and poisonous snakes among other things. These kids are definitely not the mischievous pranksters from Mary Poppins.
There is also the attitude through the book that Amanda’s cultural behaviors are not to be respected – Patrick and his children react with demeaning superiority and even, on occasion, derision, for her beliefs and habits, which are just as valid as theirs despite being different.
September Moon has much to recommend it. An unusual locale, a determined heroine, and a brash and sexy hero. Along with drought and dingoes, there is an abundance of human grit and courage. If you can handle the disturbing children, I wouldn’t hesitate to jump right in.