The Girl In The Steel-Capped Boots by Loretta Hill

Published January 2, 2012 by Bantam  (a division of Random House Australia)

Paperback, 341 pages

Read in late December 2012

 5/5 Stars

 The Girl in the Steel-Capped Boots is a quick, entertaining read with one of the most unusual and quirky settings, the Pilbara in Western Australia, and an equally unprecedented main protagonists, the city loving female Engineer Lena Todd, who having only just graduated from university has no other option but to take a job on the Pilbara although she’d much rather not have too. A job made further more unappealing by the simple fact her arrival makes her the fifth woman among some three hundred and fifty males working on the expansion of the wharf. With the odds slightly racked against her, and all focus well and truly set upon her, Lena sets out to prove that she is not only worthy of her degree, but the men’s respect and her title.

I loved the premise of this book and Hill delivers with her quirky sense of humour and wild ideas. What I think I loved about this book most of all was how refreshing it was. It was unique, and to be honest a little bit out there considering what else was on the market upon its release. Prior to reading The Girl In The Steel-Capped Boots, I had absolutely no interest in engineering (no matter how much the engineers in my life have tried to explain what exactly they do and how they do the things they do I just didn’t get it and I don’t think I really cared to be honest), and yet I found whilst reading Hill’s novel that I totally understood the world these characters inhabited. Not only that, I felt like I was there, living among them in their little aluminium boxes (dongar) they called home and constantly covered in dust. Once more I wanted to be there. So naturally you can imagine the surprise of my engineering buddies when I started to initiate conversations revolving around engineering – asking them questions and actually listening properly to the answers they gave. They mind you, thought I’d lost my marbles, but were happy enough to answer my questions with big goofy smiles on their faces.

If your like me and have no real knowledge of WA, what would constitute the expansion of the Cape Lambert Warf, and any engineering jargon is sure to flow straight over your head, your in safe hands with this novel. For although Hill aimed to stay true to the Cape Lambert Warf and its various expansions, she does explain in her authors note that she has had to simplify and combine some of the “professional roles…to reduce the number of characters and engineering jargon in this story,” (343) making this story perfect for anyone who really is just looking for a good book to relax with. The characters are captivating and most importantly real, and the story is well paced and the guys – well some of them anyway – are to dream for.

It’s clear from her writing that Hill knows what she’s talking about in regards to not only the region, but also the atmosphere on site and the types of characters and personalities that would frequent these jobs. Even before I finished the narrative and made it to her authors note I was beginning to wonder if Hill had worked on the site herself for some aspects of her narrative just seemed flawless. As is obvious from the writing, Hill has not only researched her novel above and beyond duty, but she’s also lived it in the smallest sense. Hill herself has worked as an engineer on the Pilbara and I think her down to earth nature and experiences there have largely resulted in such a well-rounded novel. Her characters are diverse and the atmosphere and culture of the place is well represented and maintained within the story. In fact, the only issues I really had occurred when Todd was back in Perth being ‘a city girl’, for it kind of felt as though the difference between the two aspects of Todd’s character, while adequately developed throughout the novel, had just stepped back a pace or two. As Todd the city girl is just that, a one-dimensioned stereotyped girl that holds little interest to the reader. That said, you don’t realise it whilst reading just how one-dimension and flimsy Lena Todd is at the beginning of the book because Hill is a master of character development, and she uses this to her advantage using every scene and every line to bring something new to light. This is true across the board with all of Hill’s characters – the dirty mouthed Carl who we learn has a weakness for a certain bus driving female staff member; ‘Bulldog’ the hard arsed, straight up and down BOSS who is dealing with some pretty explosive family and personal baggage and insists that everyone toes the line until a certain fresh-faced graduate takes it upon herself to find out what his deal is.

Overall an entertaining read by an author I will be sure to keep my eye on. I look forward to Loretta Hill’s future novels.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

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