Aussie Book Review: Ironbark by Johanna Nicholls #aww2012

Ironbark Johanna Nicholls- Ironbark

 Format- Paperback

 Source- Review copy

 Publisher- Simon & Schuster

 Publication date- 2009

 Synopsis- A stunning epic bringing the passions and heartaches of colonial Australia to vivid life.
Jack Andersen is a proud Currency Lad with a swagger in his step and a joke for his mates, until he discovers the wife he’s besotted with has left him, and taken their young daughter with her. Fuelled by revenge he starts a long search for his wife and vows never to trust ‘good women’ again.
Few people seem to think a Gypsy like Keziah Stanley could ever be a ‘good woman’. Separated by the law from her beloved Gypsy husband, Keziah decides to travel to Australia to find the love of her life. Keziah boasts she can read anybody’s future… but her own life is proving harder to read.
Daniel Browne already knows what his future will be – the life of a great artist. And he’s determined to follow his dream; no matter what.
When this volatile trio is thrown together in colonial Australia, they form an extraordinary alliance that will challenge the establishment. Love, hate, survival and revenge – all will discover the truth

Review- Ironbark is an engaging historical saga set in early Australia during a time of outlaws, bushrangers, increased convict rights while women remained marginally oppressed. Ironbark is a story that provides insight into three different characters from various walks of life whose paths overlap in Australia.

Keziah Smith a young, beautiful ‘gypsy’ Romani with plentiful beliefs and a strong cultural connection to her people intends to follow her husband from Wales to New South Wales to be reunited with her detained gypsy husband, Gem. Keziah is an endearing heroine, a very solid character who is feisty, passionate and gets herself in plenty of troublesome situations. She’s very driven by destiny, connected to her Romani roots and has visions and intuitive glimpses about the future. In an attempt to escape a brief affair in Wales, she arrives in NSW, pregnant. To protect the identity and future of her unborn child she takes on the identity of an English ‘lady’ and is appointed as a schoolteacher at the local school in Ironbark. This role becomes a blessing for her new life but is stifling to her free, Romani heritage.

David Browne only has eyes for his mistress, though she doesn’t take the form of a feminine beauty, but art. When he enters a betrothal to his employer’s daughter Saranna and is later exiled from the UK for fraud- he realises his art may not be able to save him. Initially, I couldn’t connect with David, I thought he lacked empathy and was selfish, but later as his story unfolded and his ‘secret’ was revealed I could better understand his defensive mechanisms and he truly did care for Keziah and Jake.

Jake Andersen returns home from an extensive post on the road only to discover his beloved wife has become the mistress of a wealthy man and his young daughter, Pearl is missing. He vows never to fall for a ‘good woman’ again and finds companionship in a prostitute who he loyally visits on a weekly visit. When he is hired to transport Keziah and Saranna in his cart he is instantly intrigued by Keziah, but he is seriously injured and doesn’t see her for some time. Jake is a great hero, he’s well respected by the town, he’s a reliable friend and he’s a down-to-earth Aussie guy.

Jake and Keziah seem to be on parallel paths for much of the book, they do develop a close friendship and refer to each other as ‘mates’ but in terms of their romantic relationship neither are willing to admit their attraction and fondness for each other and it seems that other things continue to get in the way of their happiness, including Keziah’s husband, David and Jake’s pursuit of his ex-wife.

The book is divided up into three parts and when I finished part two I was thrilled by how strong Jake and Keziah were and how they managed to sort things out to an almost HEA. But then book three throws more challenges at them and becomes a little depressing as their characters are tested to extremes and so is their relationship.

If you are a fan of Anna Jacobs, one of my favourite Australian historical fiction authors then Ironbark will be right up your ally. Like Jacobs’, Nicholl’s puts her characters under extreme pressure and I was completely drawn in emotionally, invested in the happily ever after for each of the three protagonists. Keziah’s ‘visions’ add a suspenseful element to the story and there were times I just couldn’t put this very lengthy book down. My fiancé kept wondering where I had disappeared to as I kept sneaking off into another room to read just one more chapter! At over 600 pages it’s a mighty read but it’s well worth it!

Ironbark is a meaty historical tale with romance, suspense, strongly developed characters and a plot with plenty of twists and turns that will have you turning the pages eagerly to find out what happens next. I’m looking forward to reading the Nicholl’s next book set in the convict era, Ghost Gum Valley.

4.5/5 rating



Purchase book @

Fishpond/ Amazon/ Book Depository UK

About the author: Johanna Nicholls is a former magazine feature writer and fashion editor. Her writing credits include short stories in Woman’s Day, radio plays and a stage play. Johanna has worked in television production for Channel 7 as a researcher/writer and for 23 years she was head Script Editor for ABC TV’s Drama Department and worked on the development of many memorable mini series including Sweet and Sour, Love is a Four Letter Word and Changi. Ironbark is her first novel and resulted from her fascination with the unique qualities of Australian Colonial history, our landscape and the emergence of the Australian identity. Johanna lives in Balmain, Sydney, and is currently working on her second historical novel, Brumby’s Run.

This book was read as part of the AWW2012 challenge:

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