Sarah Lark’s novel In the Land of the Long White Cloud follows two young women who emigrate to New Zealand to marry. The novel is set in New Zealand’s colonial nineteenth century and spans across decades of the two women’s lives. The novel deals with many hard-hitting issues of the time: friendship, marriage, children, the class system, emigration, the idea of the “gentleman,” relationships with the native Maori, colonization, the gold rush… The list continues. The unabridged audiobook was 22 hours after all. What I liked most about the novel is that Lark doesn’t pull any punches on these issues and faces the difficulties head on instead of painting a pretty, flowery picture of the past. There are moments that are hard to read alongside moments so beautiful they remind you of why you started reading in the first place.
Lark’s characterization is spot on! I love our two heroines, Helen Davenport and Gwyneira (don’t be surprised if I name my daughter that. Gwen-eye-ra. It’s freaking beautiful) Silkham. They’re friendship seems unlikely, but while listening to the book, I realized they seem to be friends because they wanted to switch places in the beginning and slowly realized that neither of them lives as ideally as the other believes. The villains are just as intriguing and provoke the reader emotionally. Calling them villains is problematic but also exactly right though one could make the argument that the list of concepts above are the actual villains and the characters simply the victims of those concepts. However, even the blackest characters in this story have redeemable qualities and are capable of earning the reader’s sympathy. The second tier of heroines and “villains” is just as interesting. I refer to them as second tier, but they could easily be called second generation as well.
This book is an astounding work of fiction, and I hope the next two in the sequel are just as good.