Book review: No Room for Regret by Janeen Ann O’Connell

About No Room for Regret

London, 1811

Chained below deck, 18-year-old James Tedder listens to the sobs of his fellow prisoners. Putting his hand over his nose to filter the vile smells, James wonders how life on the other side of the world could ever be worth living.

London, 1812

Sarah Blay watches the convict ship Indefatigable begin its voyage to the other side of the world with her husband, and his friend James Tedder, on board. One year later, Sarah bundles up her three small sons and says a final goodbye to her mother, and follows her husband to Van Diemen’s Land on a dangerous journey that will take fourteen long months.

Will Sarah regret her decision, and will any of them survive?

My Thoughts

Opening No Room for Regret the reader is grabbed by the collar and thrust into the worlds of twin protagonists James Tedder and James Blay as they are both arrested, charged and transported as convicts to Hobart Town, Tasmania, Australia. Tedder leaves behind his family of origin; Blay leaves his wife, Sarah, and their three sons. After a terrible voyage lasting many months, the men arrive and face some early tribulations, but then both find good fortune in securing positions away from the chain gangs. Tedder works in the stores and Blay for a former convict, James Cullen, on his farm in New Norfolk. What unfolds as these two men serve their sentences is a heartwarming and heartbreaking tale of families intertwining, of convicts gaining their freedom and adjusting to life in a new and strange world filled with curious animals and birds. It is a tale of resilience, survival and common humanity. There are a few antagonists along the way to keep up the tension and the drama, including the despicable Toothless, a convict guard out on a lifelong vendetta to harm Tedder.

Filled with charming characters and well-crafted descriptions, this story flows at a good clip. Above all, O’Connell provides a rich historical overview of the early settlement of Australia, prefacing her chapters with snippets of factual information which add important insights into the plight of the convicts and renders No Room for Regret both entertaining and educational.

The perennial challenge for historical and especially family history novels is grabbing readers from the outset and keeping them absorbed. O’Connell manages both with aplomb, the narration taut and gripping and laced with uncompromising realism. The result is a compelling read that is impossible to put down. No Room for Regret is a fictionalised family history novel of the highest calibre.