Book Review: The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

Title: The Wives of Henry Oades
Author: Johanna Moran
Genre: Historical fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Source: ARC from Library Thing
First line: A common bat on the other side of the world elects to sink its rabid fangs, and one’s cozy existence is finished.

In the late 1800s, Henry Oades moves his wife and children to New Zealand to take a post as an accountant for a British firm, never knowing that the move will irrevocably change the course of his life. While living in New Zealand, Henry’s wife, Margaret, and their four children are kidnapped by Maori warriors. Henry goes crazy with grief, searching for his family for months on end, finally giving up and accepting the fact that the female remains in the burned out yard were his wife’s and that he’ll never see his children again.

After a couple of grief-filled years in New Zealand, Henry moves to Berkely, Californnia, to start a new life. He becomes a successful dairy farmer, and when Nancy Foreland’s husband dies in a fire a month before she is due to give birth to their first child, Henry offers to marry her. What starts as a marriage of convenience and companionship leads to love. Both of them have moved beyond the griefs in their pasts as best as they could – until Margaret and three of Henry’s children show up on their doorstep six years after they were taken, very much alive. Henry is faced with a dilemma he never could have imagined – and also with the ridicule and hatred of his neighbors, who try him for bigamy.

As I read The Wives of Henry Oades, I couldn’t stop reminding myself that this book is based on a true story – that this horrible, tragic event actually happened. I found myself feeling so desperately sad for Henry and Margaret and Nancy, caught up in a tangled web if circumstances that go beyond the wildest things they could have imagined for their futures.

Margaret’s strength was a fearsome thing, and I was so in awe of the way she handled her captivity with the Maori, teaching her children English and French and arithmetic and manners, all in the desperate hope that they would one day be returned to Henry and society.

Nancy is young and falls apart in a very realistic way when Margaret and the children show up, turning her life upside down, threatening the new love she has discovered with Henry.

Henry is an honorable man faced with an impossible situation, and I admired the way he was determined to do what was right for both of the women in his life. I found the judgmentalism and hatred of their neighbors despicable, but not unrealistic for the time period.

Moran has written an engrossing novel about one of the most astounding true stories in California history. I especially appreciated the way she writes her female characters; often, women in historical fiction act like modern women, with modern sensibilities and attitudes, and thus distract from the truth of the story. Margaret and Nancy were very much women of their time – strong women, but women raised with the societal expectations and taboos you would expect from the turn of the century. I highly recommend this novel to lovers of historical fiction.

(Disclosure: An ARC of The Wives of Henry Oades was provided to me by Library Thing for review. Many of the links on my site are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on one of these links and subsequently purchase anything, I will receive a small percentage in commission.)

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13 Responses to Book Review: The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

  1. bookmagic
    Twitter: bookmagicdeb
    says:

    This keeps popping up everywhere, I have to read it!
    .-= bookmagic´s last blog ..She’s So Dead to Us by Kieran Scott =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Bookmagic – I was glad I enjoyed it – I sometimes worry after reading a lot of positive reviews that I’ve got my expectations set too high – but this one definitely didn’t disappoint.

  2. Booklover says:

    that happens isn’t it, that we get more involved when we know its a true story.

    Read more reviews at BookReviews at BookRack
    .-= Booklover´s last blog ..The Solitude of Emperors by David Davidar =-.

  3. Sandy
    Twitter: youvegottaread
    says:

    If this had been a fiction book, I think it may have been just your average story, but knowing it really happened puts a whole new spin on things. I’ve been seeing this book around and am interesting in reading it…I love a good true story!
    .-= Sandy´s last blog ..The Heart Is Not a Size – Beth Kephart =-.

  4. Chelsea says:

    Great review! I’m going to add it to my TBR list for the summer.
    .-= Chelsea´s last blog ..The Young Victoria =-.

  5. Pingback: BOOKS AND MOVIES » The Sunday Salon – May 30, 2010 (the “how does your mood affect your reading” edition)

  6. This sounds like an amazing story–so tragic. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for all of them. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, Carrie.
    .-= Literary Feline´s last blog ..Why I Haven’t Been Around Much Lately =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Wendy – you’re welcome! I’m glad the story came to the author’s attention – and with her talent for writing, I hope she finds another amazing story to work on soon.

  7. Serena
    Twitter: SavvyVerseWit
    says:

    I enjoyed this novel, but felt disconnected from the characters, though I did enjoy the book for the most part.
    .-= Serena´s last blog ..My First Publishing House Tour =-.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies
      says:

      Serena – I remember reading a review about this one that said that very thing about the characters – maybe it was yours!