The Bushranger's Wife
I was genuinely excited by the prospect of this book. Australia is not a hard sell for me – I associate it with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in the movie Australia, and Colleen McCullough’s exasperating and excellent book The Thorn Birds.
In The Bushranger’s Wife, it is 1861 and Prudence ‘Pru’ Stanforth is on her way to her new Australian home when she is held up by bushrangers, the Australian equivalent of highway robbers. As far as robberies go, it’s a good one – Pru and the highwaymen’s ringleader, Jack ‘the Devil’ Fairweather, have immediate chemistry, and she rather enjoys being literally stripped of her worldly goods. Pru has come to live at her uncle’s home, where she does little but engage in the rebellion of all upper-class girls: she rides around alone on the estate. Jack is a full-time businessman and part-time bushranger. He owns a transport company for visitors to Australia, and he moves people and their goods across the country, robbing the wealthiest customers at his convenience. But when he sees Pru at a social event after the hold up, he inconceivably reveals himself to her, and begins a bizarre courtship. When Pru finds out a secret that alters her trust in her family, she flees to Jack, and they marry, as the title suggests.
My first impression of Pru was that she resembled Rose from Titantic – she’s a redheaded, blue-blooded girl who is up to no good. She’s a reader, like so many heroines of romance when the authors are trying to be a little meta; it feels like you’re being tapped on the hand as you turn the page and the author is saying ‘see, I’m writing about novels in a novel. Amusing, right? My heroine thinks she’s in reality but in reality she’s fiction!’ Pru’s an okay heroine, but is a little exhausting – she runs away from the people she feels have betrayed her and then runs back when she thinks the people who she ran to betrayed her.
As for Jack… At first, he sort of repelled me. He quasi harasses Pru, and she thinks:
“she was coming to realise that what Jack ‘the Devil’ Fairweather had done to get her to kiss him was tantamount to blackmail and abuse”.
And yet in some other ways he is possibly the nicest bad boy ever to grace the pages of romance. Ms. Adnams makes sure we know how assiduously moral a bushranger Jack is; he’s never even killed anyone. The idea of a man running a robbery scheme in the wilds of nineteenth-century Australia without ever killing anyone seems a stretch. Pru at one point threatens an attacker with a pistol and Jack tells her after: “You’re a good shot,’ he said, calming a little. ‘Better than me.” He seemed like a rather toothless bushranger and consequently failed to impress me. Where’s my grizzled criminal who wrestles wild animals for fun?
My main complaint about the book is that I was, quite simply, profoundly bored by it, especially in the last section. Pru and Jack achieve almost all the usual accomplishments of an HEA (mutual love, marriage, and a baby) by the 75% mark of the book, but rather than end it there, the story keeps going, dredging up villains with Russian names from Jack’s past. Pru and Jack get stuck in a legal battle that is as dry as the Outback in spring (which according to Google is quite dry). The only truly well-executed part of the book is its aura of sexiness. It’s not an explicit book by any means, nor do I find Jack a terribly attractive hero, but I believed in Jack and Pru’s lust if not their love. And the fact that Pru discovers her kink is watching Jack rob people did tickle me soundly.
Overall, reading The Bushranger’s Wife is rather like watching an old Western film from the 1950s, in which the scenery is flimsy (the Australian setting doesn’t make much of an impression unfortunately) the drama high as noon, and the whole thing a bit too wooden to be entertaining (my favorite line in reference to Jack was: “It was his downfall, his addiction to the latest fashion trends.”). Save yourself a couple of hours and go read The Thorn Birds instead. Even though it ends tragically ever after, it’s still a much more satisfying love story than this one.