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Sentence of Marriage by Shayne Parkinson

1880s New Zealand: Two people who come to the valley change Amy’s life forever, and she learns the high cost of making the wrong choice. 

“Sentence of Marriage” is the first book in the three-volume “Promises to Keep”. The entire work covers twenty-five years; this first volume takes Amy from the ages of twelve to sixteen.

Amy is a bright and imaginative girl who dreams of an exciting life in the world beyond the farming valley where she lives. But in nineteenth century New Zealand, there are few choices for a farm girl like Amy, and her life seems mapped out for her by the time she is fifteen.

She meets a young man who seems to offer a path to that exciting world, and who quickly sweeps this lonely girl off her feet. For a magical few months, life is full of golden promise. And then her world collapses around her.

Amy is offered what she sees as a way of atoning for the shame she feels she’s brought on her family, especially the father she adores: marriage to a man she barely knows. It means a heartbreaking choice.

Note: Sentence of Marriage contains some harsh language.

A complete novel

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Listed: Nov 18, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

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Little House in New Zealand – but sadder

By Fiona Gregory, editor

Nov 23, 2009: I have to say, this novel really got under my skin. Six months after reading, I’m still haunted by it.

The first part of this novel is like reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobiographical stories of a pioneer girl’s life; it’s the same farming and family life, but among the exotic flora of New Zealand.

Teenagers were so much more responsible then! Amy, the protagonist of this story, competently cooks and runs the household for her father and brothers; her mother died when she was small. These are actually the good days for Amy, except that her dream to become a teacher is subjugated to the needs of the family.

Things take a turn for the worse when her father brings home a new wife, an elegant city woman who is thoroughly unsuited to farm life and whose frustration and bitterness brings tension and unhappiness to everyone around her. The arrival of this new stepmother, instead of freeing up Amy to pursue her own dreams, sets the stage for a tragedy which leads Amy down a darker path than she could ever have expected (and the similarity to the Ingalls stories ends).

It’s a real indictment of attitudes toward women in that era, even by those who loved them and thought they had their best interests at heart (Amy’s father). The submissiveness, self-sacrifice and yearning for approval which is drummed into Amy makes her vulnerable and arguably leads to her downfall.

The story is enthralling and brings you into the time period, but ends on a very dark note. There are three sequel novels, (available online but not entirely free) but it takes a long time for things to get any better for poor Amy.

Meanwhile, Amy’s less imaginative but shrewder cousin sets her target for happiness lower and hits her mark.

This novel is accessed through Smashworlds where there are several options for download. I started reading it as a html but found the site seemed to get bogged down, so recommend downloading the pdf instead.

5 of 6 members found this review helpful.
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Editor’s First Impression

By Linda Schoales, editor

Nov 18, 2009: The first few entries are well-written if short. Worth a second look if you like historical fiction or romance.

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Most Helpful Member Reviews

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A Cautionary Tale

By Von, member

Nov 28, 2009: This novel is filled with foolish choices, betrayed trust, selfishness, and failed confidences; all set in a well-written historical epoch.

The pivotal episode (warning spoiler) is a case of old-fashioned serial date rape. Not old fashioned in the sense of ‘used a lot’ but old-fashioned in the sense of ‘how they used to do it’. The obvious results follow, and the book proceeds from there.

Except for the details, this book could be written today. Oh, the baby might have been aborted instead of adopted, the boyfriend might abscond for different reasons, various other minor details might be different, but the essential human elements are ever the same.

Most particularly poignant are the words, repeated in fact or in situation, over and over in the book, ‘you never told me’. At several points a timely but difficult word might have made an impossible situation into merely a difficult one.

I do question one or two details, about which the author may well know more than me. I question, for example, whether a sixteen year old girl would, in that day and age, have been considered ‘well below age’ for marriage. I went so far as to look up whether Chloroform was used as an anesthesia during the period mentioned (it was. Altho I might still question as to how prevalent it’s use was, and I would definitely disagree as to the failure to use it as leading to more ‘weakness’ afterwards.) I question whether the housing in that era of New Zealand was as spacious as is suggested. Early American pioneer homes were ten by twelve feet with no rooms at all, yet her characters seem to have several different bedrooms in their houses.

I also find the characters a bit one-dimensional, reminiscent of Dickens. Characters which are unpleasant seem to have a hard time doing anything except be unpleasant, and characters which are weak are similarly lopsided.

But, still, a well written book and well worth reading . . . if for no other reason than to avoid the mistakes of judgement and communication the author relates.

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