Thursday, January 15, 2009
Review: The Winter Rose
The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Reasons for reading: I lurved The Tea Rose over my Christmas vacation; Seconds Challenge
Summary (from Publishers Weekly): "In late Victorian London, idealistic new medical school graduate India Selwyn Jones goes to work at a clinic in the city's poorest neighborhood, much to the dismay of her aristocratic mother and ambitious fiancé, political up-and-comer Freddie Lytton. The squalor is a bit much for India, but she manages to keep her emotions under control until she meets underworld crime boss Sid Malone. Sid begins as India's nemesis, becomes her patient and ends up something much more than that. What India doesn't know is that Sid is the brother of tea heiress Fiona Bristow, wife of self-made, highly principled businessman Joseph Bristow. What Sid doesn't know is that India's fiancé is as ruthless as Sid's most ruthless henchman, willing to commit theft, betrayal and even murder to launch his career, force India out of hers and bring down Sid in the process. In typical epic style, Donnelly (The Tea Rose) alternates India's story with Sid's, Freddie's, Joseph's and Fiona's, leading the reader through turn-of-the-century England from the Houses of Parliament to ale houses and whore houses, and from London to Africa and beyond."
My thoughts: I liked this one almost as much as The Tea Rose, hence the quarter-star difference. The life of a female doctor in 1900 was really interesting and well-researched and again Donnelly made the squalid surroundings of East London and its proud, hardworking residents come to life. It was lovely to see Fiona and Joe again, with their growing family, although they're still no strangers to heartbreaking tragedy. And I really liked the characters of aristorat-turned-doctor-to-the-poor India and gangster-with-a-heart-of-gold Sid. I think I enjoyed their romance even more than Fiona and Joe's. Also, the African settings were well-drawn, and it was interesting to read about the beginnings of British colonization there.
Freddie Lytton was a great villain (well, he's loathsome, but great for a villain), almost as evil as Jack the Ripper/William Burton in the previous book. Perhaps more so, actually, since Burton seemed at least somewhat mad, while Freddie is completely ruthless and calculating.
But I didn't enjoy the mountaineering parts so much, though. While it was nice to see a bit more of Fiona's little brother Seamie and I liked brave, determined Willa, his climbing partner on Kilimanjaro, I skimmed over the descriptions of crampons and whatnot. Also, the scope of The Tea Rose also seemed broader - while the about same amount of time (10 years-ish) elapses in each book, it seemed like there were more details of what happened to the characters in the first book. There was quite a 6-year jump in this book. I gather nothing much happened, but it seemed a bit abrupt.
Still, this was a great follow-up to an excellent book. I've heard that she's working on a third book in this series, which I'm already looking forward to!