by Tony Chapelle
Welshman Tomas Gerold is the youngest of three brothers. Although he reluctantly accepts that he is never going to inherit any part of the family estate, his strong sense of belonging to that land has drawn him back to his brother’s home after losing his commission during the Crimean war. No matter how much he loves the farmland that is shared between his two older brothers, Tom’s bitterness at having no future there and his misadventures both in business and with women see him on the run from Wales in 1860. He is heading for New Zealand with his recently acquired bride: the book ends in Wanganui, while further north, the Land Wars are brewing.
The Youngest Son is a companion book to Merely a Girl. Neither prequel nor sequel, Tom Gerold’s story unfolds parallel to that of Adelaide Gilbard. Whereas Merely a Girl is a genteel, feminine tale, The Youngest Son is earthy, cruel and brutal. Tom’s striking sense of entitlement, his frustrated anger and his recurring drunkenness make him not always likable. He is perhaps most appealing when he expresses his self-doubt and lack of self-confidence.
Just as Tom’s beloved Welsh countryside is imposing, rugged and stone-grey, Chapelle’s evocative word-painting is pervaded by hardship, violence and sorrow. It is easy to understand why Tom isn’t the only man in this story to seek a fresh start with life in New Zealand. New Zealand readers with a Welshman, or a remittance man, in their ancestry will gain moving insight into life in rural Wales in the mid 1800s.
With deft skill, Chapelle has built a network of characters whose lives collide, shy away from each other and intersect again. At the same time, he has created a number of teasing leads into the future: the end of the book is by no means the end of the story. A good part of the story’s future will play out in New Zealand’s pioneering days. From 1858 to 1863, Merely a Girl and The Youngest Son have brought Adelaide and Tom to New Zealand with several other key characters.
I’m looking forward to how Chapelle will carry this story forward in his next book.
Title: The Youngest Son
Author: Tony Chapelle
Publisher: Rangitawa Publishing
Available: Amazon, Bruce McKenzie Booksellers, Rangitawa Publishing
Format: print only