A Dip Into The Past

Posted on 20th November, 2020

You may recall a blog I wrote a few weeks ago about novels that incorporate such a wonderful sense of place that they make you, the reader, feel as if you have been transported to that geographical setting. Then, a couple of weeks back, I wrote a companion piece about an historical novel that had a similar effect, but instead of a geographical place, it transported the reader back in time through the author's skilful use of historical detail - and by 'skilful', part of what I mean is that the detail is added to the story in a completely natural way. This book was A Borrowed Past by Juliette Lawson. 


This week, I have another such historical for you - The Gunpowder Girl by Tania Crosse.


The Historical Novels Review calls it a "gripping and heartbreaking tale . . . well-drawn characters, intelligent and fast-paced plotting, real authenticity make this novel a page-turner."


The story is centred around Dartmoor, an area with which Tania Crosse is very familiar, as is obvious from any of her books.


Of the inspiration behind the book, Tania says:


"The rugged, savage beauty of Dartmoor is inspirational enough in itself, but its secret history has provided the basis for so many of my novels. In the case of THE GUNPOWDER GIRL, the discovery of the ruins of the 19th century Cherrybrook Gunpowder Mills drove me to write a story to illustrate what it would have been like for a beautiful, intelligent young woman to live at this remote, unforgiving location. The other element in the book, still very much in evidence and currently still in use, are the forbidding buildings of Dartmoor Prison. In Victorian times, life there could be hell, not just for the inmates - some of whom were guilty of what today would be considered relatively minor offences - but also for the prison warders and their families who were forced to live in the isolated and exposed prison settlement of Princetown"


Rose is a wonderful character, who has so many challenges to overcome. Following her through her story, I was cheering her on all the way. She has a true streak of independence, but just because she shows capability and spirit, that doesn't mean that her path through life is an easy one.


The themes of the story include love, independence, justice versus injustice, and the way in which important choices impact on not just the life of the decision-maker but on others as well.


This is an engrossing historical novel set in Victorian times and for me, the world of the gunpowder mill was a new experience. Tania Crosse has evidently done her research thoroughly, but never fear - all the information is delivered with a light touch. When I reviewed Juliette Lawson's A Borrowed Past, I said that Juliette's research had informed her writing and I pay Tania the same compliment. Historically speaking, she knows her stuff so well that it pours naturally from her pen (or possibly from her fingertps onto her keyboard).


What better way to end this blog than by quoting from Juliette's own review of The Gunpowder Girl:


"I loved this book, the first by Tania that I’ve read (but it definitely won’t be the last). The research is worn lightly and used skilfully to create a wholly convincing picture of the time and place.... The narrative engaged all my senses, and made it so easy to imagine the landscape, houses and outbuildings, as well as the interactions between the characters, a strong cast who held the story together very naturally."


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