Book Review: Fled by Meg Keneally

FledAbout the Book

She will do anything for freedom, but at what cost?

Jenny Trelawney is no ordinary thief. Forced by poverty to live in the forest, she becomes a successful highwaywoman – until her luck runs out.

Transported to Britain’s furthest colony, Jenny must tackle new challenges and growing responsibilities. And when famine hits the new colony, Jenny becomes convinced that those she most cares about will not survive. She becomes the leader in a grand plot of escape, but is survival any more certain in a small open boat on an unknown ocean?

Format: Paperback (400 pp.)    Publisher: Zaffre
Published: 15th April 2019 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Meg Keneally’s debut solo novel is described as ‘an epic historical adventure based on the extraordinary life of convict Mary Bryant’.  In her historical note, the author explains where the story departs from known facts – relatively few occasions, as it happens – and where fictional characters replace their real life counterparts.

The prologue, set in 1791, provides a taste of the remarkable events that will unfold but first of all the reader is transported back in time to Cornwall in 1783.  When Jenny Trelawney’s fisherman father is killed at sea, she chances upon highway robbery as a way to keep her family from poverty.  This is despite her fear of ending up as one of the grisly corpses displayed at the crossroads, Four Turnings.  (Perhaps a little nod there to the opening lines of Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel: ‘They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days’.)  Her encounter with the mysterious highwayman, Mr. Black, draws Jenny further into a life of crime that ultimately sees her convicted of robbery and sentenced to death.

The commutation of her sentence to transportation seems like a lucky escape until the horrors of the voyage to Australia are revealed.  Once there, and now with the protection of a husband, Dan Gwyn, things are little better.  The newly established convict colony struggle to support themselves.  Starvation and disease are always close at hand.  Contrary to the actions of the Governor and his staff, Jenny welcomes contact from the indigenous people who provide valuable information that enables the colonists to survive, but only barely.  Jenny also benefits from help from a rather unexpected source.  (I initially thought it was a bit too convenient and rather unlikely but learned from the author’s historical note that it is based on fact.)

Jenny realises there is no future for her and those she loves in Australia and sets out to convince Dan and others that escape is the only option, notwithstanding the perils that await them at sea.  As she says, their most valuable asset is that they possess “The skill to leave, and the courage to do it’.  Those perils are thrillingly brought to life in the part of the book I found most compelling.  After what can only be described as an epic adventure on the high seas, Jenny and her companions seem to have reached safety but will it prove short-lived or is there a possibility of a more hopeful future?

Jenny (or rather her real life counterpart, Mary Bryant) is a remarkable character brought convincingly to life by the author.  Jenny’s determination to take control of her own destiny is admirable and not easily resisted by those around her.  When she remarks to husband, Dan, “You are a brave man” he replies, “Not brave enough to defy you.”  Fled is a compelling and skilfully told story of courage, resolve and fortitude that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Zaffre, and Readers First. Fled is the first book from my 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge list.

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In three words: Compelling, atmospheric, dramatic

Try something similar…The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Meg KeneallyAbout the Author

Meg Keneally started her working life as a junior public affairs officer at the Australian Consulate-General in New York, before moving to Dublin to work as a sub-editor and freelance features writer. On returning to Australia, she joined the Daily Telegraph as a general news reporter, covering everything from courts to crime to animals’ birthday parties at the zoo. She then joined Radio 2UE as a talkback radio producer.

In 1997 Meg co-founded a financial service public relations company, which she sold after having her first child. For more than ten years, Margaret has worked in corporate affairs for listed financial services companies, and doubles as a part-time SCUBA diving instructor. She lives in Sydney with her husband Craig and children Rory and Alex. (Photo credit: Goodreads author page)

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6 thoughts on “Book Review: Fled by Meg Keneally

      1. Read the Lieutenant, the book that comes in between, as well, Cathy. In some ways I think it is the best of the three and both are better than Sarah Thornhill.


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