Seduced and impregnated by her employer's son, Evangeline, a naive young governess in early 19th century London, is sent to the notorious Newgate Prison and eventually a penal colony in Australia. Though uncertain of what awaits, Evangeline knows one thing: the child she carries will be born on the months-long voyage to this distant land.
Kline takes full advantage of fiction—its freedom to create compelling characters who fully illuminate monumental events to make history accessible and forever etched in our minds ... Kline tells their stories with relentless detail and tests our capacity to endure the most wretched of human conditions. We taste the inedible slop served to prisoners, smell every ounce of human waste excreted, feel the pain of whips on our flesh and, most of all, rebel at the de-humanizing condescension of one people to another ... Kline is a serious researcher and a vivid storyteller ... Kline’s prose is purposeful and urgent ... there is also hope and optimism in The Exiles and redemption, as well as many unexpected side characters ... There are good surprises and turns in the plot which I will not spoil. I developed a keen interest in all the characters and was sorry to leave them ... a tour de force of original thought, imagination and promise.
Both uplifting and heartbreaking, this beautifully written novel doesn’t flinch from the ugliness of the penal system but celebrates the courage and resilience of both the first peoples and the settlers who came after, voluntarily or not, to create a new home for themselves and their children.
Kline deftly balances tragedy and pathos, making happy endings hard-earned and satisfying. Mathinna does not fare so well here, nor did her real-life counterpart, but the fact that even her sad, untimely ending does not receive the imaginative treatment of the other characters’ stories makes her inclusion confusing, if not cruel. Still, book groups will find much to discuss, such as the uses of education, both formal and informal, in this moving work of historical women’s fiction.