The Ferryman’s Daughter by Juliet Greenwood was a sublime novel, written deftly, and with a keen attention to detail which ensured the ease of which I was able to slip into the 1900s alongside Hester Pearce, and traverse Cornwall as she fought tooth and nail for the survival and safety of her family, and for her life-long dream. This novel was bursting at the seams with courage and rebellion, and with women smashing the boundaries to become so much more than anyone previously thought they could be. It’s a novel of war and sacrifice, of determination and selflessness, and of doing whatever it takes to pull through. I was grabbed by Juliet Greenwood, and flung deep into the pages of this book, and amongst the hustle and bustle of life in a tight-knit Cornish hamlet, I discovered I loved it, and wanted very much to stay there. This was a heart-wrenching, gripping and emotional novel, one which I thoroughly enjoyed, and already, I find myself waiting with baited breath for news of Greenwood’s next novel, because I will be one of the first in line to read it.
This story begins with Afalon, a prestigious and stately home, where juicy, delicious fruit grows in abundance and dangles perilously over the high walls, as if waiting for Hester and her mother to find it. It is here where they gather apples aplenty, careful not to be caught by the residents who reside in Afalon, and then take their loot home, ready to be made into jams and preserves, and to be sold on in St Ives. Any money made is squirrelled away, kept aside by Hester’s mother to ensure their rent is paid, and also to keep safe from Hester’s father, who no doubt wouldn’t think twice about using it to buy himself yet another drink in The Fisherman’s Arms after a long day working the ferry. It is during these times when Hester is alone with her mother, that she first begins to learn that a woman’s work is never done, even work that other people don’t know about. Hester inherits her mother’s determination and cleverness, her fierceness in protecting her siblings, and ensuring that no matter what, there is always food available, and always a bed to sleep in.
First of all, let’s talk about Hester Pearce. What. a. sensational. character. God, I loved her, even from the first moment I met her. Wise beyond her years, and incredibly intuitive, I could just tell that she was the sort of girl who would grow up to be a heroic woman, fearless, and simply not afraid to break tradition. From a young age, Hester already knew that she did not want the same life her mother, and so many other women in the hamlet, had lived. She did not want to simply get married, have children, then stay at home to live out the rest of her days, cleaning and cooking for her family. She had bolder, bigger and better ideas, ideas that would mean she wouldn’t have to rely on a husband, and instead, would rely on herself, something unheard of in such an era. She added such a sense of adventure to this story, the overwhelming sense that absolutely anything was possible, and this was in part thanks to Hester’s personality, that of which spilled off the pages and into my very soul. I soaked up Hester’s enthusiasm for going after her dreams, for pushing aside the infuriating ideals of what a young woman should and shouldn’t be doing, for doing whatever it took to get through the days, working hard and pushing her own needs and wants aside, often going without things she needed to put others needs first. I had so much for respect for her, and I was totally in awe of the woman she began to turn into as the years passed by, her courage and determination only ever growing stronger and stronger, never lessening. Hester, also, was never one to settle when it came to love. Sure as hell she wasn’t going to marry someone just because they were well-acquainted with her father, either. Again, I strongly admired Hester for this. I mean, sure, this would have been the easiest route for her to take, the simplest, involving little to no effort on her part whatsoever, except of course, having to put up and shut up. But never one to choose the easy route, Hester preferred to work hard, struggle, and maybe even come close to failing, than to take someone’s hand in a marriage she had no feeling towards. And you can’t help but to respect a woman like that, can you? Especially in such a optionless era for women.
Following Hester on her journey towards capturing her dream, we delve deep into the little hamlet she calls home and watch as Hester comes face to face with many obstacles that lie waiting in her path. Juliet Greenwood paces this novel beautifully, and I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I didn’t lose interest in this book once. It was more a commitment, than simply reading this story. It was a promise to walk alongside Hester, experience her life, along with the hardships, and be there when she finally reaches what she’s been hoping for all her life. It was descriptive and eye-opening, a look into a world that came way before my own, and I loved wandering through the hamlet, meeting the characters that were familiar to the Pearce family, seeing what their individual lives were like. It was lively and invigorating, and I could picture it all so vividly in my mind’s eye. Greenwood writes in a way that wholly involves you in the story. You feel for the characters, you want the very best for them and feel that you can’t leave them, for fear of something happening while you’re away! From chapter to chapter, we see Hester make choices and decisions based solely on the wellbeing of her family. We watch her push her own desires aside to ensure safety and health. We see the passing of her mother, and watch as Hester steps up and takes on the very same duties her mother once took care of. Not only does Hester begin to take control of the household, but when tragedy strikes, she has to step up once more, and works the ferry for her father. A job previously never held by a woman before! This was truly a wonderfully evocative story, leading me deeper into Hester’s mind and thoughts, allowing me a glimpse into what life truly would have been like back then.
I feel that this is a novel I will remember and think about for a long time. So much happens throughout the years written within, and I adored my time spent lost in Hester’s story, with the threat of war ever-present in the background. It was emotional, gripping, beautifully-descriptive with huge amounts of courage and love and all of the things between. It’s not just about Hester chasing her dream, but it’s about family and learning new skills, it’s about taking chances and knowing that sometimes, we have to do the unthinkable in order to achieve things that have never been achieved before. It’s a sweeping story of loss which incorporates many, many themes, and it’s about Hester keeping her mother’s memory and own dreams alive, alongside her own. It evoked numerous emotions within me, everything from happiness and joy to sadness and anger. We watch Hester tackle things no man would have to deal with and her character is one of the most brilliant I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. I’m so thrilled for Juliet Greenwood because this was just perfect. It entertained, it moved, it held me captive and made me smile. An absolutely wonderful novel to lose oneself in, without a doubt.
All in all, I think it’s fair to summarise my review of this novel by saying it was everything I had hoped for and more. Juliet Greenwood has surely made herself a spot in the list of historical fiction writers who do their genre beautifully with The Ferryman’s Daughter. I was absolutely swept away by this scenic, poignant and elegantly told tale of one woman’s strength and sacrifice, in a time when women weren’t thought to be very brave at all. I applaud Juliet Greenwood, and I sincerely hope that there will be news of her next book soon. I can hardly wait! I think it goes without saying that I will be giving this terrific tale the highest rating of five out of five stars today.
With thanks to the publisher for the advanced reading copy of this book, that of which has no reflection on me providing a fair and honest review.
Can Hester help her family escape desperate poverty and fulfil her dreams?
1908: Hester always loved her mother best, her father has always been a hard man to like, spending more time (and money) in the local than with his family. After her mother’s sudden death, followed by an injury forcing her father to give up his job as the ferryman, Hester is placed in the position of care-giver for her younger brother and sister.
As the years pass Hester must row the ferry night and day to keep them all from starvation, while her hopes of working in a kitchen and one day becoming a cook, slip further and further away.
But just how far is Hester willing to go to make her dream a reality? And as the threat of war comes ever closer to the Cornish coast, will it bring opportunities or despair for Hester and her family?
You can purchase your copy of The Ferryman’s Daughter by Juliet Greenwood here.