Chatty, bouncy, plump--it's another reliable Eden entertainment, with romance and mystery and nice people (even the baddies have glints of virtue) in mid-19th-century pioneer New Zealand. Kate O'Connor, 25, leaves Ireland after her fiancÃ‰'s death and signs on as a companion for London's Devenish family: fascinatingly handsome Sir John, his mousey wife Lady Iris, and their beautiful, horrid daughter Celina. The Devenishes, you see, are taking off for New Zealand--though Kate doesn't quite understand why: Sir John, despite his colonialist speechmaking, is not your usual rugged pioneer, so why is he leaving lovely Leyte Manor (which is left locked-up tight) and taking wretched Lady Iris and whining Celina to a harsh, lonely land? Certainly his motives aren't those of the other settlers, who are hungry for equality and opportunity. In any case, the often-terrifying three-month voyage gets underway, with Celina revealing her lusty nature mid-journey. And, after a brief stay in a tiny town (they're entertained by kind but socially striving gentry), the group arrives at last, via coach and bullock cart, at their new home: the surprisingly comfortable Avalon. Once there, however, Lady Iris begins to sip laudanum (she has nightmares about being smothered by a cat); Celina plots escape; and Sir John, often absent, takes a fancy to farmer's child Emily, intending to raise her as a ""lady."" Kate, then, is having not too wonderful a time--especially when Celina sirens away stalwart Capt. Henry Oxford, just as he's about to marry Kate. But then Celina jilts Henry and marries a young clergyman (who'll take her back to England), while young Emily yearns for Sir J., hoping he'll marry her when Lady Iris dies mysteriously. (Yes, smothered by a cat--or so it seems.) It's Kate, however, whom Sir J. has his eye on. . . till the ugly tales from his past surface at last. A little gothic, a little passion, a little history--and lots of fun.