Marriage transplants Sarah thousands of miles from home; a failed love affair forces Phoebe to make drastic choices in a new environment; a sudden, shocking discovery brings Mrs Ellis to reconsider her life as an emigrant — The Settling Earth is a collection of ten, interlinked stories, focusing on the British settler experience in colonial New Zealand, and the settlers’ attempts to make sense of life in a strange new land.
Sacrifices, conflict, a growing love for the landscape, a recognition of the succour offered by New Zealand to Maori and settler communities — these are themes explored in the book. The final story in the collection, written by Shelly Davies of the Ngātiwai tribe, adds a Maori perspective to the experience of British settlement in their land.
I don’t know that much about New Zealand, other than it’s where the Lord of the Rings was filmed, there was a huge earthquake a few years ago and it’s where the kiwi bird is from. Oh and they have a lot of sheep. So when the author approached me about reviewing her collection of historical short stories set there, I was interested at once. Additionally, while I’ve been reading more SFF short fiction, I’d never yet read any historical short fiction, so I was interested to see whether short fiction in that vein would work for me.
The Settling Earth is an interesting collection. It is a slim book; the stories are short, but still tell a greater story by virtue of being interconnected. As such, the verdict on whether historical short fiction works for me is still out, as while these are short stories, which can standalone, once read in a collections they don’t actually feel as truly separate stories.
Some of the stories are heartbreaking, as we see several women put in untenable positions, due to their station in society. Also, the white man does not come off well in these stories. The main ones featured being either racist, abusive, self-centred, controlling, or a combination of any of the above. The Settling Earth offers a stark look at the reality of life as a settler wife or a woman on her own. The collection also shows the impact the settlers have on their surroundings. The collection offers a welcome added viewpoint from a Maori perspective in the story written by Shelly Davies, a writer of Maori descent, which I loved. Her male main character is by no means a saint, but his view of the people who have invaded his land is revealing of their nature and I love the active hand he takes in resolving the awful situation of some of them.
These ten stories form an interesting collection looking at nineteenth century life in a land we don’t hear enough about here in the Northern hemisphere. With The Settling Earth Rebecca Burns shows us a side of New Zealand we usually don’t see, looking beyond the green hills and the sheep. If you are at all interested in learning more about the settler experience in New Zealand, both for those who came to settle and those who were already there, The Settling Earth is a good place to start.
The book was provided for review by the author.