Reviewed by Jennifer J.
Henry Oades, husband and father, has just accepted a promotion within his bank and uproots his family from London to New Zealand. Promising his wife Margaret the post will only keep them in New Zealand for two years, Henry is already anticipating the future opportunities his new job will bring him. Due mostly to his work, Henry has an easier time adjusting to their new life. Margaret, who keeps house and raises their four children, is homesick for the life they left behind.
While Henry is away on errands, the Maori tribe seeks revenge for a public flogging of one of their royalty. Henry returns home to find his dogs slaughtered, home burned, and his family missing. For months, Henry searches the wild of Wellington to find any clues about his missing wife and children. Finally able to accept that they are lost to him, Henry journeys back to America to begin a new life.
Several years after losing his wife and children, Henry is now a successful dairyman and has taken young widow Nancy as his wife. Just as Henry’s wounds are beginning to heal, Margaret and the children appear at his doorstep. Both Henry and Nancy welcome Margaret and the children into their home and make the best of their strange new arrangement. When the townsfolk learn that Henry is legally married to two women, they are faced with charges of bigamy.
Debut author Johanna Moran has beautifully captured a haunting tale of loss, friendship, and marriage in The Wives of Henry Oades. I found it fascinating that this novel was based on a true story. Moran fleshed out the story, adding colorful details about the daily tasks a wife would perform in the late 18th century. Both Nancy and Margaret are strong characters, able to form a friendship with one another.
I had expected there to be more conflict between the wives. Instead, Margaret was more of a mother figure to Nancy and helped her care for her daughter. Margaret, in my opinion, too easily accepted that Henry had moved on and no longer had feelings for her. I anticipated some of his feelings for Margaret would come rushing back to him, but they seemingly did not. In Henry’s position, I am not sure I would have been able to choose one wife over the other. Moran handled the outcome of the trial and his marriages as skillfully as she could. The novel seemed to just end, but each of the characters’ stories was wrapped up to my satisfaction, with the exception of Margaret.
Jennifer graduated from the University of Utah with a BA in English. She occasionally dabbles with her own fiction writing, particularly with the Young Adult and Paranormal genres. She currently resides in Utah with her husband and daughter.