The Matilda Saga by Jackie French

Welcome everyone to this last week of November!! This post features, as promised, a whole saga of stories. Jackie French is hands down one of my favourite authors to date. I discovered her books by chance a few years ago and fell in love with her writing, especially the historical fiction novels she has created. So if you enjoy generational stories featuring formidable matriarchs, feisty young heroes and strong characters, then settle down into a comfy seat and get stuck in to this post!

A waltz for Matilda girl with brown hair in bun eyes closed light green background tree and bird on top
Matilda Saga

Title: A Waltz for Matilda

Publisher details: Angus & Robertson; Sydney, 2010

What this book is about: In 1894, twelve-year-old Matilda flees the city slums to find her unknown father and his farm. But drought grips the land, and the shearers are on strike. Her father has turned swaggie and he’s wanted by the troopers. In front of his terrified daughter, he makes a stand against them, defiant to the last. Set against a backdrop of bushfire, flood, war and jubilation, this is the story of one young girl’s journey towards independence. It is also the story of others who had no vote and very little but their dreams. Drawing on the well-known poem by A.B. ‘Banjo’ Patterson and from events rooted in actual history, this is the untold story behind Australia’s early years as an emerging nation. 

My review: Here begins the Matilda saga. Even after reading it for maybe a sixth time, it still sends tears to my eyes. We meet a young Matilda as she leaves the city for her father’s farm somewhere out in Australia’s farm country. A gripping and poignant story of courage, love and family. Jackie French is able to capture Australia in the 19th century through the eyes of an extremely courageous young girl. Her language, descriptions, plot and storyline expertly weave around one another to give us a glimpse into the past that shaped the nation that is now Australia. The notes she includes at the back on how ‘Banjo’ Patterson’s song and episodes from Australia’s historical events had shaped the beginning of Matilda’s story is fairly impressive. This is one of the reasons I love her writing!! An awesome read!!

The girl from Snowy River girl with long brown hair looking towards left fields and mountain behind horse rearing on hind legs and bird in sky trees in opposite corners
Matilda Saga

Title: The Girl from Snowy River

Publication details: Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 2012

What this book is about: The year is 1919. World War I still casts its shadow across a valley in the heart of Australia, particularly for orphaned sixteen-year-old Flinty McAlpine, who lost a brother when the Snowy River men marched away to war. The man she loves has returned from the war distant and her older brother Andy has left her in charge of their younger brother and sister. The farm she loves is also under the threat of eviction. A brumby muster held under the legendary Clancy of the Overflow offers hope. Now Flinty must ride to save her farm, her family and the valley she loves. Set among the landscapes of the great poems of Australia, this book is a love song to the Snowy Mountains and a tribute to Australia′s poets. The Girl from Snowy River combines passion, heartbreak, history and an enduring love and rich understanding of our land. It continues the grand saga that began with A Waltz for Matilda.

My review: Another wonderful historical read by Jackie French!! Set in the aftermath of World War I, in the middle of a valley in Australia, this story is about Flinty McAlpine. This story is beautifully written by Jackie French and continues on from ’A Waltz for Matilda.’ The historical content and the amazing setting of the Snowy Mountains took my breath away. She writes mostly for older children or ‘tweens’ but I found myself mesmerised in Flinty’s world as she faced many obstacles in her path. Although not a typical ‘horsey’ read, the vivid descriptions of the brumby run and the rich language used to describe the brumbies caught, almost made me want to take up horse-riding. Another fascinating read of Australia’s history immortalised in Jackie French’s unique voice. 

The road to Gundagai three girls on elephant girl with reddish hair in green dress on top girl with long brown hair in blue mermaid costume wrapped in trunk girl on ground with pink dress circus tent in background blue sky
Matilda Saga

Title: The Road to Gundagai

Publication details: Angus & Robertson; Australia; 2013

What this book is about: Blue Laurence has escaped the prison of her aunts’ mansion to join the Magnifico family Circus, a traveling troupe that brings glamour and laughter to country towns gripped by the Depression. Blue hides her crippled legs and scars behind the sparkle of a mermaid’s costumes but she’s not the only member of the circus hiding a dark secret. The unquenchable Madame Zlosky creates as well as foresees futures. The bearded lady is a young man with laughing eyes. This third book in the Matilda saga is set in 1932, at the heights of the Depression. Miss Matilda is still running Drinkwater station, but has put aside her own tragedy to help those suffering in tough economic times, and Joey, from The Girl from Snowy River, uses his new medical skills to solve a mystery. 

My review: This third instalment of the Matilda saga introduces another strong young woman in Blue Laurence. Set in the Depression era, we see the struggles of people in rural Australia in a different light; the dazzling lights and glamour from a small circus. I enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the circus acts and the colourful cast. Blue and her friends end up staying at Drinkwater with Matilda and we get to meet an older Joey McAlpine as well. With each story, not only does time pass and people age, but the growth and developments in Australia is also expertly woven into the story. Another awesome read!!

Jackie French To love a sunburnt country young girl in dark hair looking down pink hues on face bottom edge has orange red trees and bush
Matilda Saga

Title: To love a sunburnt country

Publication details: Harper Collins; Sydney South, NSW, 2014

What this book is about: Nancy has driven cattle a thousand miles into Queensland and laughed at the disapproval of colonial memsahibs. But even Nancy of the Overflow can’t stop the Japanese army surging towards Australia. As bombs fall on Malaysia and Singapore, she vows that her sister-in-law and baby nephew will survive. From the desperate prison camps of Malaya and Thailand, to secret flights in tiny planes into Japanese-held New Guinea jungle, this is the story of Australia from 1941 to 1946, when loving your country meant you had to fight for it – and for survival. And for Nancy loving your country could also bring you home – alive. From one of Australia’s most-admired storytellers comes a gripping and unforgettable novel based on true events and little-known people. This is a story about ultimate survival and the deepest kinds of love. 

My review: This fourth book was one of the most heart-rending stories I have ever read. We meet another strong young woman in Nancy Clancy and follow her story from the 1940’s in Australia to Malaya and even into a Japanese-held internment camp. I hadn’t known about the Japanese internment camps until I read this story and found myself learning of another aspect of the Second World War. War is cruel and it’s cruellest is shown here as well as the kindest. Despite the harsh descriptions of the war, I found myself smiling towards the end as I read of characters from the previous three stories and saw them all fit together. This story is recommended for older, teen readers. 

The ghost at the billabong girl with long black hair looking up blue sky and road in background red caravan on road
Matilda Saga

Title: The Ghost by the Billabong

Publication details: Angus & Robertson; Sydney, 2015

What this book is about: Jed Kelly sees ghosts from the past and future, at the Drinkwater billabong where long ago the swaggie leaped to his defiant death. But is sixteen-year-old Jed a con artist or a survivor? When she turns up at Drinkwater Station claiming to be the great-grandaughter of Matilda Thompson’s dying husband, Jed clearly has secrets. As does a veteran called Nicholas, who was badly wounded in the Vietnam War and now must create a life he truly wants to live, despite the ghosts that haunt him too. Set during the turbulence of the late 1960’s, this was a time when brilliant and little known endeavours saw Australia play a vital role in Neil Armstrong’s ‘one giant leap for mankind’ on that first unforgettable moonwalk. The fifth title in the award-winning highly acclaimed Matilda Saga, The Ghost by the Billabong is a story of deep conflicts and enduring passions – for other people, for the land, and for the future of humanity.

My review: The next poignant instalment in the Matilda saga! Jed Kelly is the latest new addition and her past seems to be darker than any of the others. I liked how Jackie French slowly spins out the character’s back story and we slowly begin to understand their pain and begin to fall in love with them. Although there were many vivid descriptions of the horrors of the Vietnam War, which might be too much for younger readers, the resilience, courage, and most of all the human capacity to continue with life and love again is beautifully written here. We meet up with Nancy, Matilda, Blue, and Mah from the previous stories and hear of how they have fared over the years. The part I enjoyed reading was in the notes at the end where Jackie describes the actual events that happened in Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and wove it into this book. I think this era was a pivotal time for the whole of mankind, not just the Americans and Australians as it saw man break into the ultimate frontier: space, and begin the journey to where we are now!!

Jackie French If blood should stain the wattle girl with long dark hair eyes closed newspaper article to her side hills and fields on bottom in light pink hues
Matilda Saga

Title: If blood should stain the wattle

Publication details: Angus & Robertson; Sydney, NSW, 2016

What this book is about: As political ideals drift from disaster to the dismissal, it’s also time for Jed Kelly to choose between past love, Nicholas, and Sam from the Halfway to Eternity commune. It’s time too, for Matilda Thompson to face her ghosts and the life that took a young girl from the slums of Grinder’s Alley to being the formidable matriarch of Gibbler’s Creek.  During this period of extraordinary social change and idealism, modern Australia would be born. And although the nation would dream of a better world, it would continue to struggle with opposing ideas of exactly what that better world might be. Jackie French has woven her own experience of this period into an unforgettable story of a small rural community and a nation swept into the social and political tumult of the early 1970’s. A time that would bear witness to some of the most controversial events in Australian history; and for Matilda, a time that would see her visions made real, without blood spilled upon the wattle. 

My review: What an amazing tale this instalment to the Matilda Saga was!! We get to see all of those loved characters, all older and wiser; witnessing an era of social change in Australia. I like how Jackie French fictionalized her own experiences during those years in the 1970’s into the story. And Jed; boy for one of the strongest young women I’d seen in this saga; what a great way to build her character!! I loved everything about her; her love life and other crazy adventures she gets up to. I’m not going to give anything away, but for me, catching snippets from Matilda’s, Flinty’s, Blue’s, Nancy’s and Jed’s part was very bittersweet to read!! And how it all intertwined into each other with the strength and love each woman carried with themselves!! An awesome read suitable for older teens!!

Jackie French Facing the flame light green and brown trees on both sides of dusty road smoke behind words
Matilda Saga

Title: Facing the flame

Publication details: Angus & Robertson; Sydney, 2017

What this book is about: In 1978, as the hot wind howls and the grass dries, all who live at Gibber’s Creek know their land can burn. But when you love your land, you fight for it.  For Jed Kelly, an even more menacing danger looms: a man from her past determined to destroy her. Finding herself alone, trapped and desperate to save her unborn child, Jed’s only choice is to flee – into the flames. Heartbreaking and powerful, Facing the flame celebrated the triumph of courage and community, and a love for the land so deep that not even bushfire can erode it. 

My review: The next chapter in the Matilda saga. Jed’s now pregnant (Spoiler Alert!!) with Sam McAlpine’s child and a fire rages across to surrounding hills threatening the community. We see how they all rally together and how much work those brave volunteer firefighters put into saving the land they live. Some excellent story-lines and imagery from one of Australia’s greatest storytellers! I loved meeting all the older generation again. Some sad endings but some really heartwarming beginning of another generation to come. And again, better for older teen readers. 

Jackie French The last dingo summer small lake surrounded by marsh and fields lone tree behind words wooden fence along edge of water light brown yellow sky
Matilda Saga

Title: The last dingo summer

Publication details: Angus & Robertson; Australia, 2018

What this book is about: A body has been found in the burned-out wreckage of the church at Gibbler’s Creek – with older skeletons lying beneath it. The corpse is identified as that of Ignatius Mervyn, the man who attempted to kill Jed Kelly and her unborn child. Newcomer Fish Johnstone is drawn into the murder investigation, convinced that the local police are on the wrong track with their enquiries. But as she digs beneath the warm and welcoming surface of the Gibbler’s Creek community, more secrets emerge. Set during the Indigenous rights and ‘boat people’ controversies of the late 1970’s. This haunting story shows how love and kindness can create the courage to face the past. 

My review: This next instalment had me gripped to my seat!! Along with Kirsty’s young granddaughter’s introduction into the Gibbler’s Creek community, we get to read of some story-lines that tie in together and bring an additional richness to this saga. I loved every part of this book, even the sad ones. Some of the descriptions are a bit dark and vivid for my liking but this story was by far one of the most amazing ones she’s written in this saga. Another awesome story better for older teens. 

My rating for all: 5 ⭐

Additional notes: The final story of this saga Clancy of the Overflow is scheduled to be released by the end of November 2019. Also, my research shows that Jackie French celebrates her birthday in late November!!

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