January 16, 2010

REVIEW: The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

BOOK #: 2
PUBLISHER: Random House
GENRE: Historical Fiction
FORMAT/PAGES: Paperback/347
RATING: 4 Stars

In Moran's debut novel an unusual family saga unfolds. Margaret and Henry Oades and their children move to Wellington, New Zealand in 1890 after Henry accepts a bank post there. Margaret is less than thrilled but Henry promises that the post will only be for 2 years. But in just one night, every plan the family has comes to a screeching halt when Margaret and the children are taken from their home one night during an uprising by the native Maori. Henry's family is presumed dead. Completely heartbroken with grief, Henry moves to Berkley, California. Eventually, Henry marries a young widow with a baby.

This is when it gets interesting. Soon after Henry and Nancy marry and settle down to domesticity on Henry's newly acquired farm, his first wife and children show up, alive and having escaped captivity. Henry is overjoyed and he and Nancy invite them into their home. However, this is not a happy ending with nice neat wrapping and a bow. Some lovely ladies in town decide that the Oades' all living together constitutes bigamy and what follows is a powerful tale of marriage, family, courage, and honor.

I enjoyed reading about the Oades family. What is most remarkable to me is that this novel is based off of a real-life court case. The story is remarkable in more ways than one, however. It is a powerful testimony to the fact that family can not be defined in terms of a father, mother, and children. It is remarkable in that it is the story of two courageous women who must deal with the fact that their husband has another wife and family. It is remarkable in that Henry is a man of honor and bravery and would rather go to jail for bigamy than see any of his children become society outcasts with the label of "illegitimate." It is also remarkable for the way it explores society's perceptions and fears, and for the way it explores the law and its flaws. Did I mention it was remarkable?

I admit I had trouble getting into the story during Part One. I found there was too much of life on the boat and not enough of a setup into the true heart of the story. However, once the kidnapping happened, I was enthralled with the story. I mourned with Henry. I rejoiced when Margaret and the children escaped. I cringed when Margaret discovers he has a new family. I hated the ladies who crafted the plot against Henry, Margaret, and Nancy. I feared for their children. And when I feel that range of emotions in a book, I know it is being told passionately and with skill.

I recommend this book to any fans of historical fiction, family sagas, or stories of overcoming adversity.


  1. Great review! You fleshed out the story much better than I did in my review. It was a remarkable story, indeed! Incredible that all of this (or at least alot of it) really did happen. I have no clue what I would have done. Such a heart rending situation. But still a wonderful book.

    Laura Hartness
    The Calico Critic

  2. That sounds like quite a story and one that would really make you think. Great review.

  3. Somehow I missed this review, but I saw the link on your giveaway post. It sounds like a great read. I'm definitely interested in reading it!

  4. This is a great review and it sounds like a book that I would enjoy.

  5. wow, This makes me want to meet this blended family. The fact that it's based on an actual incident makes this type of story even more remarkable.

  6. This story sounds fascinating. I could imagine that situations such as this might have occured more often than we know. It brings to mind THE MAYOR OF CASTERBRIDGE and the very different attitude and intentions of the husband/father in that classic story. I'm putting this one on my TBR list.

  7. This does sound "remarkable!" I love to read historical fiction, especially when it's based on a true story.

  8. This sounds fascinating, especially given that it's based on a true story. I'll keep this one in mind.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  9. Wow an exciting review about an intriguing book. Truth is stranger than fiction.
    I love these stories when people are trying to do their best in such a difficult situation.

    This is the first time I have heard of this book but it will definitely be on my 'to read' list.

  10. That sounds like a story rife with drama! Thanks for the review. :)

  11. Very nice review!
    You made me want to run out and read this book.
    Wow and it is based on a true story.
    The ladies that brought him up in charges - I just cannot see other people being happy.
    What a tough position for the husband, wives and children to be in.

  12. Great review, Rebecca! This is on my TBR and you've made me put it up a little higher on the stack.

    I'll take your advice to stick with it if I find the first part slow ...

    I can't imagine how these women managed, and I agree with you - "family" can be defined in so many ways.


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