‘A city built on lies and secrets,’ is the Sydney of Julian Leatherdale’s sumptuously wrought Australian historical fiction, The Opal Dragonfly.

This journey back to 1850s New South Wales is elegantly written, visually stunning and richly detailed – the work of an author who treats his subjects with utmost care and honesty.

At the centre of the novel is Isobel McLeod, at once a delightfully feisty heroine and complex young woman of talent and intellectual energy. Around her, Leatherdale brilliantly gathers and tames the sprawling social and political beginnings of the colony, and in doing so begs many questions of what’s changed in terms of our blindness to our own brashness, bigotries and injustices. He challenges the reader to consider with unblinking eyes the fact that success is too often built on the losses of others; that Australia’s origins are built atop a vast pit of long-buried crimes.

Thoroughly entertaining to boot, The Opal Dragonfly is a classic, sweeping romance in the traditional sense of the word, with a heart-stopping climax and an immensely satisfying conclusion, as well as a beautiful touch of magic that whispers throughout. A most absorbing and illuminating read – prepare for a couple of late nights!