Series Review: The Convict Girls

I have reviewed a few trilogies/series on this blog, although usually not in a single post. But, once I started reading the Convict Girls Series, I couldn’t stop until I reached the end. Here you will find some shortened blurbs on each book in the series, followed by a single review.

Title: The Convict Girls Series

Author: Deborah Challinor

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Dates: 2012-2015

Genre: Historical Fiction

Book 1: Behind the Sun

1820’s: Irreverent and streetwise prostitute, Friday Woolfe, is arrested and taken to London′s notorious Newgate gaol, where she awaits transportation. There, she meets three other girls: intelligent and opportunistic thief, Sarah Morgan, naive young Rachel Winter, and reliable and capable seamstress, Harriet Clarke. On the voyage to New South Wales their friendship becomes an unbreakable bond — but there are others on board who will change their lives forever. Friday makes an implacable enemy of Bella Jackson, a vicious woman whose power seems undiminished by her arrest and transportation, while Harriet is taken under the wing of an idealistic doctor, James Downey. Rachel catches the eye of a sinister passenger with more than honour on his mind, whose brutal assault leaves her life hanging in the balance.

When they finally arrive on the other side of the world, the convict girls are confined to the grim and overcrowded Parramatta Female Factory. But worse is to come as the threat of separation looms. In the land behind the sun, the only thing they have is each other …

Book 2: Girl of Shadows

1830: Sarah has been assigned to jeweller Adam Green, Harriet is a maid for the Barrett family, and Friday is once again working as a prostitute. But their fate is no longer theirs to control. Vicious underworld queen Bella Jackson holds the girls’ futures in the palm of her hand and is playing a vindictive game. Harriet, racked with guilt, becomes convinced that their lost friend is haunting them, and while Friday succumbs to the temptation of the bottle, Sarah has to fight for everything she now holds dear. Once again, the girls must join forces to save one of their own.

Book 3: The Silk Thief

1831: Assigned to a good family in Sydney Town, and now learning the art of tattoo, convict girl Harrie Clarke is still haunted by the horror crime she and her friends committed the previous year. Powerful and vindictive criminal Bella Jackson continues to demand money in exchange for her silence regarding their crime. And just when it seems that Harrie and her fervent and long-time admirer James Downey might finally be united, an act of pure nastiness severely threatens their chances – and Harrie’s life. When things go from bad to much, much worse for Harrie, everyone who loves her must do their utmost to save her. But Friday is battling demons of her own, and Sarah is forced to lie low for fear of attracting the attention of the police. Who will be the one to rescue Harrie?

Book 4: A Tattooed Heart

1832: Convict girls Friday Woolfe, Sarah Morgan and Harriet Clarke have been serving their sentences in Sydney Town for three years. For much of that time they have lived in fear of sinister and formidable Bella Jackson, who continues to blackmail them for a terrible crime. Each of them has begun to make a life for herself, but when Harrie’s adopted child is abducted and taken to Newcastle, the girls must risk their very freedom to save her. But is Friday up to the task? Will her desperate battle with her own vices drive her to fail not only herself, but those she loves and all who love her?

In this final volume of a saga about four convict girls transported halfway around the world, friends and family reunite but cherished loved ones are lost, and an utterly shocking secret is revealed.

~ •♥︎ •♥︎• ~

This series is fantastic, with a female main cast with a believable main goal of survival. The convict girls aren’t “empowered” females – they couldn’t have been simply due to the time in which they lived – but they are strong characters nonetheless.

Friday is feisty and quick to temper, but good-natured at heart. I had wondered at some of her motivations early on, and why she reacted the way she did in some instances, but loved the development of her character over the course of the series. Poor Rachel, as the other characters describe her, was realistic in that she had aspirations fitting of young women in that time, but also the naivety that led her into making some terrible mistakes. Sarah is mysterious and intelligent and comes across as cold-hearted. I enjoyed getting to see more of her softer side revealed in book two, after which she became my favourite convict girl. Harrie is a smart but also overly-optimistic young woman. Sometimes I wanted to shake her, but also understood why she felt the way she did.

I also liked that the romantic interests of each of the girls weren’t the typical handsome saviours, but all likeable in their own way. Bella was a fabulous antagonist to begin with, although I felt her presence lacking a little in the last two books of the series as other antagonistic characters picked up the slack. However, I enjoyed the new “bad guys” just as much.

There are plenty of great themes explored here – from a woman’s role in society, to the belief in the supernatural, sexuality, and the lengths people will go for revenge or simply to survive and thrive under difficult circumstances. The little romance included only further enhanced the main plot. Some of the themes explored in the last two books felt a little too modern compared to those earlier in the series, but given how attached I was to the characters and their situations, I was able to suspend disbelief enough to enjoy them anyway.

Thanks to the convict girls, I discovered more about our female convict history, and am inspired to learn more still. The amount of research put into this book is clear and led to a much richer reading experience. I loved reading the still familiar Sydney street names and locations, and could easily picture them as they had been many years ago thanks to the wonderfully evocative descriptions used.

I think this series is quite possibly my all time favourite. Deborah Challinor has bought each of the convict girls to life, giving them wants, fears, flaws, failures and successes. My only big complaint is that the series had to end. 5★