Monday 21 August 2023

 The Low Road


Katharine Quarmby

Norfolk, 1813. In the quiet Waveney Valley, the body of a woman – Mary Tyrell – is staked through the heart after her death by suicide. She had been under arrest for the suspected murder of her newborn child. Mary leaves behind a young daughter, Hannah, who is later sent away to the Refuge for the Destitute in London, where she will be trained for a life of domestic service.

It is at the Refuge that Hannah meets Annie Simpkins, a fellow resident, and together they forge a friendship that deepens into passionate love. But the strength of this bond is put to the test when the girls are caught stealing from the Refuge's laundry, and they are sentenced to transportation to Botany Bay, setting them on separate paths that may never cross again.

Drawing on real events, The Low Road is a gripping, atmospheric tale that brings to life the forgotten voices of the past – convicts, servants, the rural poor – as well as a moving evocation of love that blossomed in the face of prejudice and ill fortune.


There are some books that you just know you are going to love and this was one of them. When I read the blurb and saw that it was based in Harleston, Norfolk, I knew I had to read it as I have visited there several times and heard lots of stories about local customs and even witchcraft!

Hannah is the illegitimate child of Mary Tyrell. They live on a farm and help milk the cows and are cared for by the farmer and his wife. 

When Mary gets pregnant again and gives birth in secret, Hannah helps deliver the baby and rocks her to sleep in her cradle. When Hannah wakes up the next day the baby is dead and so Mary tells her she must get rid of it. Hannah carefully bundles the baby up and puts her in a nearby river, hoping that she won't be found. 

The baby is found a few days later and Mary is accused of it's murder and thinking of no other way out, she commits suicide, leaving Hannah to be sent to a Refuge. Poor Hannah has to endure the heartbreak of her Mother being ridiculed in public after her death, because suicide was thought of as a crime in the 1800's.

It is in the Refuge that she meets Annie Simpkins. They become firm friends which then turns to love, but when the girls are caught stealing clothes from the laundry, they are put on trial and their punishment is that they will be transported to Botany Bay. 

I read three quarters of this book in one day, I just could not put it down. I needed to find out what happened to Hannah and Annie! 

The book was very well researched by the author and as I have visited the area in Norfolk where it is based, I have heard a lot of stories of folklore and witches, so this interested me from page one. 

Thank you so much to Unbounders for sending me a copy for an honest review. I absolutely loved this book and can't believe it is this author's first novel. I really hope she writes more (and soon!) as I for one, will look forward to reading it!

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