Following a childhood marked by poverty and petty crime in the slums of London, William Thornhill is sentenced in 1806 to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife and children, he arrives in a harsh land to a life that feels like a death sentence. But among the convicts there is a whisper that freedom can be bought - an opportunity to start afresh on lush, 'unclaimed' land away from the infant township of Sydney, up the Hawkesbury River. As Thornhill and his family stake their claim on a patch of ground by the river, the battle lines between old and new settlers are drawn. Whilst some attempt to reconcile themselves with the place and its native people, others' fear of this alien world turns into brutal depravity towards it. The Secret River sensuously etches the intense light and scribble of the Australian bush on to the page, making them the backdrop to a story about ownership, belonging and identity - themes which are timeless and universal.