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Canadian author Lois Cloarec Hart claims to be an accidental author. But her latest rich, opulent period piece set in Victorian England and the Canadian “Wild West” demonstrates that readers are all the better for the circumstances which prompted this gifted author to take up ink and pen.
Her historical romance, Kicker’s Journey, scores double: It is a great period piece about being a lesbian in Victorian England, and it also gives us a tantalizing glance into the lives of pioneers in the Canadian West. Does immigrating to the New World really bring the much craved for freedom for those at the fringe of society?
Not only is Kicker’s first name rather unusual for a woman, but so are her jobs as a stable hand and a farrier, as well as her male clothes. In the middle of the rigid mores and the clad-iron caste system of Victorian England, she is different but has found her niche in the stables of the Grindleshire Academy for Young Ladies. There she is respected and has a comfortable and tranquil life “downstairs.” Everything starts to change when the new teacher, Madelyn Bristow, arrives. Not only is her station in life vastly above a working-class oddity like Kicker, but she is also literate and sought-after by gentlemen. However, Kicker and Madelyn fall slowly but inexorably in love and seek to escape the prejudices of upper crust England and the expectations of their families by immigrating to the New World, to Canada’s Wild West, carrying little more than a cherished dream: a life together.
Rich, opulent, epic are the words which come to mind to describe this novel. First, there is a notable richness of language. Lois Cloarec Hart manages to capture the essence of Kicker’s low class accent, the upper-class speech, and all those little nuances in-between without making the dialogue difficult to read. It is a joy to follow the flow of dialogue and to revel in those differences indicative of class as expressed in language. The description of the class system itself is admirable. Hart masterfully shows, and with many details, how the system works—in the Old World as well as the New World. For example, the short sojourn of Kicker in Madelyn’s family home is a study in itself … Downton Abbey with lesbian protagonists. Another treat is the crossing of the Atlantic and the immigration process itself: There are many little vignettes of everyday life, and it is a great credit to the editor and the author that although there a lots of tantalizing morsels of well-researched historical facts, they are intricately woven into the fabric of the story and never stop the forward momentum of the book. The Canadian part of the story is colorful, and Hart doesn’t shy away from showing the hardships of life at the frontier. This part abounds with many a great character and is written with great attention to detail, which lets the reader travel into a world long gone. And mind you: Canada’s West is no lesbian paradise. There is still plenty of prejudice in the New World—against women, against native Americans, but there is a chance to build a life even if you are different. Kicker and Madelyn have to stake out their new life with their newfound friends and fiends.
This is a substantial, epic read, that is filled with plenty of passion. The novel is a treat for any reader interested in the Victorian age around the turn of the 19th century and the workings of the old Canadian West. Hart retains the color, the mores, and the language of the time, while providing a great nuanced historical read.
By Lois Cloarec Hart
Paperback, 9783955330606, 472 pp.