Birds of a feather by Rhianna King

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Rhianna King’s debut novel opens with Beth’s voice telling how she always felt the odd one out in her family – but this is not the familiar trope of the artistic one stifled by a conservative family – but the complete opposite: Beth is the sane and sensible one in a family that is bohemian and unrestrained. She is the one that works hard and saves, whilst her sister Jarrah just trusts to her lucky stars. Beth’s feelings of frustration and resentment are so well described, they are sure to resonate with many readers.

Beth’s soulmate is her grandmother Elise, sharing a love of nature and environmental conservation. So when Beth does something uncharacteristic for her and buys a Lotto ticket, and actually wins a large sum of money, she wants to do something special for her grandmother. That becomes the challenge of tracing the whereabouts of Elise’s lost first love, from before her marriage to Beth’s grandfather. However that first relationship was complicated, and not acceptable in society at the time.

King’s novel lays bare old attitudes towards homosexuality, juxtaposing the secrecy and taboo nature of Elise and Gerry’s relationship in the past with the current day where Beth shares an office with Alannah, clearly of non-specified gender. It’s an interesting story that exposes past prejudices towards same-sex couples, perhaps providing a historical perspective that modern day LGQBTI+ readers might be hazy about.

Beth’s journey with her grandmother leads to a relaxing of her own attitudes to romance and fate, and helps her gain a better understanding and acceptance of her family. There may even be a romantic possibility for her as she spends more time with Gerry’s nephew Nick.

Both romantic threads are underwritten by themes of environmental conservation and female pioneers in nature science, with many references to the work of ornithological illustrator Elizabeth Gould, whose husband John produced ‘The Birds of Australia’. So while ‘Birds of a feather’ may be regarded as a feel-good story of love rediscovered, there are historical details that enrich the themes of female empowerment, trust and acceptance. That, combined with the gentle humour that pervades the novel, makes for a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Themes: LGBQTI+, Romance, Acceptance, Women scientists, Humour.

Helen Eddy