JO by Nigel Wyndham
by Viedelle Smith
GM Books

"And then his voice turned into a solemn but deliberate whisper. 'I am betrothed to another, my love.'"

Smith has crafted a well-written historical romance, based on a true story. The novel is produced as a story within a story. Newspaper man, Nigel Wyndham, upon hearing Josephine Mary’s tale of unfair imprisonment and subsequent banishment to Sydneytowne, vows to tell the world her story. Born in New York in 1764, Josephine witnesses English felons working alongside black slaves. When Jo’s brother runs off to join the Northern troops, Jo runs away to find him–infuriating her father, Victor. Jo finds her brother dead on a battlefield, and English Sergeant Brian Eagan is ordered to protect her.

Brian and Jo fall in love, but their romance is forbidden by Victor. Heartbroken, Jo travels to England to find Brian–only to discover that he is married. The strong-willed Jo runs away again and is taken in by Susie and Sean, the latter of whom is an Irish political activist. Jo’s world collapses when she is found guilty of treason by association and sent sent to the first Australian women's prison in Sydneytowne. She could never have imagined that her life in Australia would be made even more difficult by the resurgence of Brian, who is determined to win her back one way or another.

The author writes with a great familiarity of both dialect and history. The vivid settings Smith creates bring the reader deep into the world of war and imprisonment. Female readers will especially empathize with Jo’s plight as a woman with very little say in her own future. Bound by so many men, Jo attempts to make the best of each of the situations she finds herself in. In the end, she proves to be the strongest character of all—surviving challenges that even the most controlling and cruel men in her life cannot manage. The story of Josephine’s harrowing life is an engaging, emotional read. The heroism and perseverance she shows in the face of such adversity makes her an excellent role model for women and girls alike. Her story is not only timely but arguably needed, which would translate well to the big screen.

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