The first time I tried to write a novel, it was a pirate story. A high school student at the time, I spent every waking moment daydreaming about plotlines and researching piracy and maritime terms. Each evening, I told my very patient little brother my latest discoveries and plot devices and faithfully emailed my best friend my latest chapters for critique.
The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter stirred both my memories of this early writing project and my imagination. This is the fourth novel in The Smuggler’s Wife series, so even though I’m clearly a fan of the genre, I was a little concerned that I’d be lost in a forest of already established characters and plot arcs from previous books. It’s a testament to Deborah Challinor’s (The Convict Girls series, My Australian Story: Vietnam) prowess as a writer that instead of feeling like someone who’d come late to the party, I instead felt like a special guest.
As a writer, Challinor explained all necessary backstory graciously. Where it may have been tempting to spend undue time focusing on the details, she provided just enough detail to keep a new reader with her. I was surprised to find that I felt more like a fellow crew member than an intruder poking my nose into the lives of strangers. After I finished, I wanted to thank Challinor for her consideration for her readers, and not just for producing a brilliant story.
This installment of the series begins in 1863 and follows the adventures of a crew of smugglers led by the protagonists of the previous novels, Rian and Kitty Farrell. These outlaws embrace the marginalized of society, which was one of my favorite things about The Cloud Leopard’s Daughter. The crew consists of the orphaned, the transported and several who are marginalized simply because of their race, gender, or sexuality. It’s a different bunch, and I love that. Who wouldn’t love a diverse gang of adventurers with stories to tell?
This gang of misfits band together to save Bao, the daughter of an old friend who happens to be the ‘Cloud Leopard’ – the leader of a Chinese Tong. The journey takes them to Australia, the Philippines, Hong Kong and beyond as their quest intensifies with yet another kidnapping – this time it’s Kitty and Rian’s own daughter at stake. And the pirates holding her have a task of Herculean proportions for Rian to accomplish in exchange for her life.
If the author’s well-crafted and friendly style of writing wasn’t enough to make me want to read more, her website would. Historical fiction is her specialty, specifically history relating to New Zealand and Australia. But this isn’t some stuffy history professor that dabbles in fiction; Deborah Challinor happens to be an avid lover of punk music, tattoos, and antiques in addition to being a prolific best-selling author of gripping novels. How could you expect anything less than the wonderfully unexpected from this woman? She’s my new hero (it’s quite a long list, but welcome to the club, Deborah).
I plan to pick up more of her novels. Quite frankly, I feel robbed that I haven’t been exposed to more of her work! Learn from my mistakes, people. Grab a glass of your favorite beverage and read up me hearties, yo ho! (Yes, I went there. Don’t sit there judging me, just get reading!)