Transport yourself from the canals of Amsterdam, across the waves, to the rough-and-tumble frontier town at the Cape of Good Hope.
In 1683 life is gruelling for the young women in Amsterdam’s civic orphanage. The sole light in Johanna Timmerman’s existence is her forbidden love for Frans, an orphan in the boys’ section who has a smile like sunshine. Then he is gone, whisked across the globe to the Dutch East India Company’s nascent colony at Good Hope.
Floriane Peronneau’s privileged world is pleasant and fulfilling until she discovers that it is all built on lies. Far from being the devoted gentleman he seems, her husband Claes is a womanizing degenerate who has led them to the edge of ruin. And the forces are closing in on him.
While Johanna’s love drives her to make a shocking bargain to secure passage to the Cape, Floriane is caught in a terrifying game of cat and mouse. The two women’s lives could not be more different. Yet, on the long, dangerous voyage to the southern tip of Africa, they will become the best of friends – and co-conspirators . . .
Roxane Dhand’s historical fiction novel The Orphan of Good Hope is a sweeping saga about family, inheritance, truth, friendship and fighting for what’s just. Featuring multiple settings and grandiose locations, The Orphan of Good Hope features two strong female protagonists as they fight for their place in a world dominated by dishonest men.
Setting is a leading strength in Roxane’s novel. Initially, we’re engulfed in the canals of Amsterdam; readers will feel enticed and seduced by the European location. Johanna, in particular, feels most at home here. She’s hopeful and uplifted by those around her, and she’s falling in love with fellow orphan Frans. There’s a lot ahead of her.
Whilst we do spend a portion of the book in South Africa, the time spent aboard the ship is where Johanna and Floriane’s journeys really flourish. Here, there’s opportunity. Johanna is determined to pursue the connection with her love interest, and Floriane endeavours to extricate herself from her cheating, thieving husband.
I do think there was more scope to incorporate the weather. In all locations, most scenes are set indoors but there still felt like a distinct lack of temperature or scenery embedded into the chapters. How did the bitter snap of Amsterdam make the ladies feel? And how does this compare the windswept journey aboard the ship? Did they feel more free? And in South Africa, the heat? The landscape? I felt like Roxane never really focused on any of these elements, and it was a missed opportunity to set the locations apart.
“Almost eight years ago, Johanna had made this journey in reverse, but her memories were no help now. She followed behind as they turned right on Kalverstraat, crossed over Dam Square with its town hall and weighing house, and traipsed across a humped bridge to where people, crowds of them, shouted and jostled on the greasy cobbles.”
Split into three parts, The Orphan of Good Hope is written in intimate third person POV, allowing the reader to move between Johanna and Floriane’s perspectives. Johanna is young, but intelligent. She’s mature and measured. She takes chances; she’s distracted by love and the future, but she’s also cautious about her surroundings and her unknown future. Floriane, on the other hand, is older but a little daft. She’s oblivious to her husband’s secrets, and a little slow to catch on. It likely stems from her privilege in society. Whilst she eventually forges a path for herself, determined to leave her husband behind, it did take a bit of time to warm to Floriane. She’s not as relatable.
At times, the POV was a little stilted — the transitions weren’t always seamless — particularly because for most of the novel, Floriane and Johanna were in the same location so it was a little tougher to initially tell the two perspectives apart.
Despite this, I did really enjoy The Orphan of Good Hope. I always gravitate towards historical fiction, particularly any that have strong female protagonists. The exotic locations drew me into the story, and the plot and twists kept me turning the pages. I was determined to find out how Floriane and Johnana’s stories would resolve, and what their lives would look like at the end of the book.
“He crept away without interrupting them, but anger was boiling within him. Backed into a recess at the side of the ship, Claes concealed himself in darkness and chewed on his lip till blood seeped into his mouth. Slipping his hand inside his coat, he fingered his short-bladed dagger in its sheath at his belt.”
Layered within the story are hints of violence, betrayal, mystery and danger. Women weren’t safe in the 1600s, no matter where they were. Men couldn’t always be trusted, and Johanna has to be incredibly vigilant and aware of her surroundings, the threat of danger looming, forever on the cusp.
Floriane also finds herself in some potentially dangerous situations, particularly when she’s working against her husband and trying to catch him out for his thievery and dishonesty. Roxane builds tension with slow and measured scenes — The Orphan of Good Hope is a slow-build, a historical novel simmering with intrigue and possibility.
“Time on board ship passed slowly but, still, days eventually turned into weeks, and there were even moments when time got away from Johanna.”
Recommended for fans of historical fiction, and sweeping sagas with a large cast and a faraway setting.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Orphan of Good Hope
Penguin Book Publishers Australia