Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: The Trespass by Barbara Ewing

Title: The Trespass
Author: Barbara Ewing
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Published: 2003
Pages: 416

Rating: 5 out of 10

A cholera epidemic is sweeping over 1849 London, and though the scientific cause remains mostly a mystery, there are many who are blaming the contaminated water supply. The wealthy owner of the water company, Sir Charles Cooper, meanwhile sends his favorite daughter, the beautiful Harriet, away to the country while her less favored sister Mary stays behind in the disease-ridden city. Harriet misses her older sister fiercely, but cannot bear the thought of returning to her father's house. There is a dark secret there that she cannot speak of to anyone. When Mary is struck by the cholera, Harriet must take matters into her own hands as her father's nightly visits become more frequent, and makes a daring plan to escape to the other end of the world.

I was interested to learn about the colonization of New Zealand, which is something that I haven't come across in fiction before.
I also loved the brooding atmosphere to this book, though it isn't quite as Gothic and chilly as the cover suggested.

I liked the plot's main points, but it all seemed quite untidy. The element of the putrid water supply for London being a carrier of sickness, while the wealthy water company owner sits back and does nothing, seemed a good little background point. It is focused on heavily in the first few pages, and then forgotten save for one character's comment about it later on.
In the beginning of the book, Harriet is sent away to her aunt and uncle's house in the country, in order to be safe from London's sickness. I suppose the book could be split into thirds - Harriet's time in the country, her time back at home, and her time in New Zealand. Her time in the country seemed pretty irrelevant, though. It introduced us to quite a lot of characters, who seemed poised to become major personalities in the book, and who Harriet becomes quite fond of. However, once she leaves, all but one disappear from the story completely. Also, I wondered a bit at Harriet's abusive father sending her away. Wouldn't it be more plausible that he would selfishly keep her in London for his own sake?

Harriet's sexually abusive father never came across to me as quite the villain that he should have. I expected a tension and a darkness to it all, but I never felt at all that he was evil, more just a half-hearted, weak attempt at "bad." And since the author made Harriet decide never to speak or think of these incidents, they have no impact on the reader except for what we can imagine to ourselves. Harriet's day-time interactions with her father are formal and stiff, but far from ominous. Her terrible night-time ones are never actually witnessed, because her father gives her laudanum so that she is never awake while he is there.
On one hand, this is YA Fiction, and explicit sex scenes of such a dark nature probably aren't necessary for the age group. But on the other hand, much could have been done with Harriet's emotions, and it doesn't seem right that we never get to see into her head about how she truly feels and is affected by this abuse.

Mary's death also seemed a bit hurried to me, though I am pretty sure that Ewing was simply trying to let the reader feel some of the shock that Harriet was. Anyhow, Harriet's reaction to her sister's passing away came across as genuine.

This book is alright. There were plenty of things that could have been tidied up, but 5 stars (out of 10) for a historical topic I've never read about before, a dark undertone, and quick pacing.