Book Review ‘Shepherd’ by Catherine Jinks

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On my first reading attempt

I wasn’t ready for this book.  I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Catherine Jinks other books but it didn’t work for me right from the start.  The setting was vivid but the raw, brutish behaviour and sheer masculinity of the story overwhelmed me.  Does that make me a sexist, a bigot, a wimp when it comes to macho bravado?  I don’t know.  I turned the pages with trepidation, not interest.  Maybe the colonial frontier loneliness affected me and I didn’t want to go on.

On my second reading

the story felt less crushing.  I concentrated on young English convict Tom Clay, a former poacher transported in chains to Australia, and now a shepherd.  I willed him to be okay, to learn and survive intact.  His country assignment in New South Wales works well, he didn’t steal from landowner Mr Barrett so he was never flogged and he works hard.  Through his eyes, I saw the strangeness of a harsh new land, the vast differences, and the cruel pitiless men he is forced to live and work with guarding sheep against theft and wild dogs.

Tom has a jaundiced eye

when it comes to things like Australian native wildlife and his comment on first seeing kangaroos is less than flattering.  I was disappointed with the header on the bookcover which reads “The wolf is not the only hunter”.  There are no wolves in Australia, there are dingoes (wild dogs) and that should have been apparent.

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Sheep stealing, jumbuck, billabong, Waltzing Matilda, poet Banjo Paterson

The conditions are harsh

and Tom’s fight for life against his arch nemesis Dan Carver is harsher still.  These chapters are tightly written.  The knock down drag ‘em out battles are horrific, the ghastly metal trap, the shootings, the human and animal deaths… but Tom dearly loves his sheep dogs.

I am not a fan

of an undefined location nor overused nonlinear narrative.  Tom’s past comes out in this way.  Flashback to eight year old Tom at his mother’s funeral, his former life almost as bad as his current one.  He learns “No matter what a convict’s situation might be, he’ll never persuade a trooper that he’s telling the truth.”  Flashback to when Tom first met convict Rowdy Cavanagh, a con man who joked, laughed and teased his way to success until he was caught “A single misstep and it ruined me life.”

The age rating

for this tense, chilling, thrilling story eludes me, but it is a tale I did not fully enjoy.  I do respect it wholeheartedly for the screenplay fear and fascination it instilled in me regarding the rough and thoroughly inhumane life early convicts were forced to endure.

A sequel?

Tom’s situation could lead to listening and learning from the Indigenous custodians of this ancient land, and perhaps encourage a new phase in his life.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward


Author info

Catherine Jinks ‘Shepherd’ interview on Paperchain Bookstore blog.

Catherine Jinks  (Australia b.1963) is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks, author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.

She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  Catherine gets ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Review ‘A Very Unusual Pursuit’ by Catherine Jinks

Book review

Birdie McAdam is a bogler’s assistant, a stout defender of Alfred Bunce and his unusual profession.  The ‘unusual’ relates to luring and eradicating child-eating bogles by using Birdie as bait.  Her songs sometimes quaver when a foul bogle monster leaves its lair but she holds firm.  A spear and split second timing is needed and old Alfred is the man for the job.

Before reading Catherine Jinks adult novel ‘Shepherd’ I read her children’s trilogy City of Orphans.  These stories captured my interest from the first page and held it to the last.  Following the adventures of young orphan Birdie McAdam, a lively, focused girl with a beautiful singing voice, I soon blended into the damp, grimy streets of 1870s London.

After the messy demise of a chimney bogle in a fancy parlour, the story kicks up a notch with overlapping events; Fagan-like Sarah Pickles with her young thieves and no scruples; well-to-do Miss Eames with an interest in mythology and rehabilitating young Birdie; and evil Dr Morton, a man with a heart as ugly as a bogle.  And, of course, the markets and docklands of London.

I love the levels of intrigue, grim deeds, and disagreeable behaviour which surround Birdie and Alfred.
As true protagonists, they rise to every challenge.
Birdie has entertaining friends, although she wouldn’t admit that to rascals Ned or Jem.
These lads get to shine in books two and three.
Characters are clearly and consistently written.
Together they overcome hardship and show concern for each other.
There is great strength of purpose when adversity strikes.

The fast-moving chapters are vividly written and although I am not the target audience, each time the tension rose I held my breath.  This plot builds and moves forward with fortitude, the second book in sight.  All three books are well worth reading, and while the mood may get darker and the bogles may get messier, the sequence of events lead to a very satisfying conclusion.

Gretchen Bernet-Ward 

My postscript

Poetry Clipart 08Bookcovers, like those beauties above, hold a certain fascination for me.  Way back I did a blog post about it.  In this instance, the publication of different titles and different artwork in overseas countries let me down.  They are nothing like the bookcovers shown here, their titles don’t capture the atmosphere of the era nor do the illustrations recreate how the bogles are described.  Gotta love marketing.  GBW.


About the author

Catherine Jinks, Australia (b.1963)  http://catherinejinks.com/

Catherine is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction.  In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.

Catherine Jinks Author Photograph 02Catherine Jinks was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.  She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television.  She gets her ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films.

The author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, Catherine writes whenever she gets a spare moment, and could write for eight hours straight if she had the chance.  She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.

Series

City of Orphans trilogy

  1.  A Very Unusual Pursuit (2013)
    or  How to Catch a Bogle
  2.  A Very Peculiar Plague (2013)
    or A Plague of Bogles
  3.  A Very Singular Guild (2013)
    or The Last Bogler

Pagan Chronicles

  1. Pagan’s Crusade (1994)
  2. Pagan in Exile (2004)
  3. Pagan’s Vows (2004)
  4. Pagan’s Scribe (2005)
  5. Pagan’s Daughter (2006)

Allie’s Ghost Hunters

  1. Eglantine (2002) – very quirky story.
  2. Eustace (2003)
  3. Eloise (2005)
  4. Elysium (2007)

Genius

  1. Evil Genius (2005)
  2. Genius Squad (2008)
  3. The Genius Wars (2010)