Needing a great story to slip into and escape for a while, I was delighted to see that Kimberley Freeman’s latest, Ember Island had downloaded on my Kindle. Loving Freeman’s previous books, I couldn’t wait to snuggle down with this one. Cup of tea: check; cushions to rest against: check; silence and no interruptions: check. Big sigh of contentment… open book… And….
Immediately, I was transported to Ember Island, a fictional place in Brisbane’s Moreton Bay, and the struggles of internationally renown but reluctant writer, Nina, who, discovering her property on the island (once owned by her grandmother) has been damaged in a storm, arrives to oversee repairs. Only, the house isn’t the only thing needing fixing. Nina is nursing a wounded heart and suffering from terrible writers’ block and, as the story unfolds, readers learn she is burdened from carrying a guilty secret as well.
The story shifts gear back to the late 1800s and the life of orphaned Matilda Kirkland who, after her beloved grandfather dies, follows her new husband, Jasper, to Guernsey in the Channel Islands to take up life as a wife and all that entails. Only, when Tilly (as she is known) arrives, nothing is as it seems and her dream future with the dashing Jasper soon becomes a nightmare from which she must wake or perish.
Segueing between the two stories of two very different women, the connecting thread being Nina’s grandmother, Eleanor or Nell, and the diaries she has left of her childhood on Ember Island, the reader is immersed in their separate travails and quest to find both love and peace, a place to settle their restless souls, but without sacrificing their sense of self.
While Freeman segues between the narratives and times, she doesn’t compromise pace or plot and the reader is allowed the time to not only get to know the characters, but to enjoy the unfolding tale as well. At first, I confess, I found Nina a bit whiny, though I did appreciate the descriptions of the crippling doubt even a famous author experiences and her inability to shake these demons. Still, I also wanted to slap her and tell her to appreciate the success she clearly has had, the supportive people in her life and to just get on with it and stop complaining! It’s testimony to Freeman’s prose that I responded to Nina that way; she is a realised character and certainly, the further you get into the story the more you come to appreciate why Nina feels the way she does.
Tilly is both a product of her era and someone who struggles against the shackles of imposed gender roles and male authority but without sacrificing veracity. Sometimes, however, she is too easily seduced by those who don’t have her best intentions at heart; the lessons she learns from them and their actions are hard indeed. The younger characters in the book, especially precocious Nell, are endearing and wise beyond their years.
This is a romance, and while it features good men and bad, it also explores female friendship and the ties that bind and those that are severed and why. I really enjoyed the female relationships and the love and trust and betrayal that are explored within these.
Overall, this is a marvellous page-turner over which I lost sleep trying to get to the end because I simply HAD to know what happened. Though I saw a couple of the twists, there were one or two I did not, and they quite took my breath away!
Anyone looking for a great read, pick up Ember Island, slip into its pages and escape – though here’s a warning: you might not want to come back!