The Bequest

Night in Eden

September Moon by Candice Proctor
(Fawcett, $5.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-449-00127-X
Candice Proctor has returned to Australia, the setting of her first, highly popular book Night in Eden. And what a marvelous return it is. I figure that any book that can keep me enthralled while my beloved Steelers are playing (even if it’s preseason) must be a keeper.

The story is set in 1864. Amanda Davenport, the twenty-seven year old daughter of an Oxford don, finds herself stranded in Port Adelaide. Her employers have both died and left her nearly penniless. The only position she can find is as governess to the family of Patrick O’Reilly who has a station in the remote Flinders Ranges. If she can survive for a year, she will have £60, enough to pay her way home to England and support herself until she can find a new post.

Amanda’s introduction to her new home is not auspicious. The vast and empty land is suffering a severe drought and her employer is far from a proper gentleman. Her charges -- Hannah, Liam and Missy -- have driven nine previous governess out of Penyaka. Amanda quickly makes her dislike of the wild Australian outback clear. But she is also a determined woman who knows that she must make the best of a bad situation.

Patrick is handsome, virile and immensely attractive. It turns out that he is also well read, a caring father and completely devoted to the station he has carved out of the wilderness. The descendant of an Irish convict, he has little use for the English and especially English women. He had learned a hard lesson when his English-born wife abandoned him and his children because she so despised life in the outback.

Of course, these two mismatched individuals are attracted to each other. But are their differences simply too great?

Patrick is everything one could want in a romantic hero. He may not be a “gentleman,” but he is all man. And Amanda responds most unwillingly to him Amanda is the epitome of the perfect Victorian lady on the outside. But she has had to suppress her true nature to achieve her prized respectability. Patrick perceives the passionate woman beneath the surface, and the sexual tension between the two sizzles.

The vast and forbidding Australian outback is a compelling secondary character in September Moon. Proctor paints it in all its stark beauty and danger. Like Amanda, the reader comes to appreciate the allure of what must be one of the most unforgiving lands ever settled by human beings. Proctor also provides an intriguing picture of what life was like on a 19th century sheep station, where the nearest neighbors were miles and miles away and “civilization” was a decrepit mining town.

Many romances have used a plot similar to that of September Moon: the prim and proper governess who finds herself far from civilization facing charges who have run wild and an employer who is all too attractive. Proctor takes this traditional plot and brings it to life with her vivid depiction of an untamed land and a hero and heroine who are strong enough to challenge it.

Perhaps my very positive response to this book has something to do with its setting since Australia has always fascinated me. But I am sure that I was also pulled into the book because of Proctor’s impressive story telling ability, her strong characterizations, and her excellent writing. While September Moon does not quite have the emotional intensity of Night in Eden, it will nonetheless join that book on my keeper shelf.

--Jean Mason

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