There can be little doubt that humanity possesses endless instances of inherent cruelty and malevolence throughout the ages. Whether it be animal cruelty, environmental destruction, or pure hatred toward fellow human beings. When we examine the history of human civilization, such examples are everywhere we look. A blatant lack of empathy and understanding for one another. At no time is such maliciousness more evident than during periods of extreme hardship such as accompanies famine, disease or plague. This is just such the scenario in E.H. Night’s novel, A Stray, Astray. For lovers of historical fiction which boldly explores the theme of relentless human spirit amongst unbearable conditions… this is a must read!
Essentially, the story revolves around the protagonist, Helen. She is a nineteen year-old orphan growing up in London during a devastating plague. People are dying in droves and death virtually lurks around every corner. Life has dealt her some seriously hard blows and she enters a life of servitude immediately after leaving the abusive orphanage in which she was raised.
When an opportunity arises which could potentially change her meagre circumstances, Helen bravely pursues it with hope in her heart and a gleam in her eye. However, what she discovers instead is a situation as bad as any she has ever come across in her short but tragic life. Abusive employers, nasty co-workers and general misery all await this young and underprivileged woman. The only beacon of light for her is a stable boy named Peter who shows Helen the kindness and compassion that she has so sorely lacked throughout her short life. When the intolerable situation inevitably implodes, Helen and Peter go on the run to escape the nefarious employer who is seeking retribution. Will the pair manage to escape this villain and begin to enjoy a life they truly deserve? Or is more tragedy about to rear its ugly head?
There are a number of key themes which run through this relatively short novel. Working class struggles, oppression of women, self-preservation and everlasting love. They all smack you in the face as you steadily read along. These are all supported by a solid plot which will keep the reader entranced and wondering what could possibly happen to poor Helen next. Make no mistake however, while the plot structure of the novel is excellent, it is the actual quality of the written word which stands out the most. The prose is both beautiful and mesmerizing. The author is able to project vivid imagery which will ensnare the reader and transport them to a land of hardship and misery. Clever devices such as pathetic fallacy are used in a subtle yet very effective manner. The reader is able to actually become part of this story. That is a very tall order for any author to achieve!
In regards to character development, there are a number of intriguing and believable supporting players. From the kind-hearted Margaret, brave Peter – to the heinous villain Mr. Holland. Nevertheless, this is definitely Helen’s show. She is very well developed and entirely believable as a tragic figure who fits the setting of the novel perfectly. In truth, the fact that so many individuals have suffered similarly to Helen in reality throughout the ages, makes her a haunting character you will not soon forget!
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this story. It has everything that a great story should have. A captivating plot, memorable characters and beautifully poetic writing.
5 out of 5 Stray Stars for this one!