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Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Review: The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns

The Settling Earth by Rebecca Burns
ARC, E-book, 128 pages
Odyssey Books
December 16, 2014

Genre: Historical Fiction, Short Story Collection

Source: Received from the author via Netgalley for review
Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant — The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers’ attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land. 
Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities — these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.
I have read several historical fiction short story collections and they tend to fall into two different styles; those that are all loosely based around a central theme, but not interrelated and then those that all contribute to telling a unified story. The Settling Earth falls into that later category, but at the same time, it is still different. These stories were more like character sketches. Each of the subjects has a unique experience in the burgeoning land of New Zealand that contributes to the larger British colonial story, which is the overarching theme. However, there is not all that much of a plot in each of these stories. For the majority of each story, the reader is in that character’s head while they think back over what has transpired since they arrived in New Zealand to bring them to the current point. It took me through the first two stories to get that it wasn’t going to be the type of collection where a lot happened; once I got into that mindset I enjoyed the stories for what they were. I’m telling you, don’t stop after the first two stories, the best is yet to come, and the story called Dottie blew me away. I was shocked at the realization of what was actually transpiring here and I had to go back and restart that story again to get it all.

I really got into the characters presented here. You learn about them not only through their own stories, but through the interconnected stories of others. Each character is associated with the story of at least one other character. I would have loved to have had more from any of these stories.

Now, I know absolutely nothing about New Zealand – neither historically nor contemporary. Burns does a fantastic job of vividly bringing the land and time to life. I could see and feel the world around these characters. I have a brilliant visual idea in my head now of what life would have looked like to an immigrant coming to New Zealand looking for a promised new life.

I encourage you to pick up this short collection, you won’t be disappointed with the experience that you walk away with.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Rebecca Burns:

Catching the Barramundi

Find Rebecca Burns: Website | Facebook | Twitter


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