Wednesday, May 18, 2011
When India Selwyn Jones, a young woman from a noble family, graduates from the London School of Medicine for Women in 1900, her professors advise her to set up her practice in London's esteemed Harley Street. Driven and idealistic, India chooses to work in the city's East End instead, serving the desperately poor.
In these grim streets, India meets-and saves the life of London's most notorious gangster, Sid Malone. A hard, wounded man, Malone is the opposite of India's aristocratic fiancé, Freddie Lytton, a rising star in the House of Commons. Though Malone represents all she despises, India finds herself unwillingly drawn ever closer to him, intrigued by his hidden, mysterious past.
Though they fight hard against their feelings, India and Sid fall in love, and their unpredictable, passionate and bittersweet affair causes destruction they could never have imagined. Sweeping from London to Kenya to the wild, remote coast of California, The Winter Rose is a breathtaking return to the epic historical novel, from a masterful writer with a fresh, richly vivid, and utterly electrifying voice.
Recently I came across a book review in which a friend was so overwhelmed by a good book, all she could think of saying at first was how awesome it was. I know the feeling. I often feel stymied when I've read a great book. "I am not worthy, I am not worthy" How can I review something when my words are nothing more than a lowly worm in comparison?
That's how I feel about The Winter Rose. It was great, even better than it's predecessor, The Tea Rose.
Set in the year 1900, the story picks up where The Tea Rose left off. Fiona Finnegan has been happily married to Joe Bristow but still misses her brother Charlie who has changed his name and become the infamous mobster known as Sid Malone. Untouchable and feared, he is the leader of the poorest neighborhood in the East End of London. Fiona wants to get in touch with him, but he'll have none of it. He wants nothing to do with her. He wants to leave his former life behind - for good. He's been through too much as a criminal; he can never again be the brother Fiona longs for. She refuses to give up - against her husband's wishes, thus jeopardizing her marriage. Donnelly's descriptions of the dark and grimy streets of Whitechapel and Limehouse are vividly realistic whether we're following Fiona's harrowing search or Sid's criminal activities that ironically lead him to who will become the love of his life.
Paralleling Fiona and Joe's storyline, the main focus of The Winter Rose is on brand new doctor, India Selwyn Jones who's goal is to open a free clinic in Whitechapel, the most needy area in the East End. Although born to an old and aristocratic family, she longs to help the poor - women in particular, eschewing her money's wealth and privilege. India soon meets Sid Malone. She's aware of his reputation as a gangster and dislikes him, yet she cannot help feeling drawn to him somehow. After saving his life they form a tentative truce - a friendship. Sid would like to help her with funds to start a clinic but she refuses to accept his blood money. They run into each other frequently and soon they can't help but fall in love.
India's life is complicated. She faces the daily trials and harsh realities of being a doctor in Whitechapel. The doctor she works under us unbearably chauvinistic towards his female patients and India finds it harder and harder to work with him. Yet, she has the help and friendship of her co-worker Ella who shares in her dream to open a women's clinic. In addition, she is engaged to Freddie Lytton, a vain and ruthless young politician who has no scruples left to speak of. He has completely bamboozled her into believing he loves her for herself. But really he's marrying her for her fortune which will become his once they tie the knot - a deal he has made with her cold and austere mother who wants India to leave medicine behind and be a good society wife. India doesn't love Freddie but she's known him forever as a childhood friend and she's fond of him. But it's not like what she feels for the dangerous Sid Malone! Soon she cannot deny her feelings for Sid and - fortuitously before the wedding - she finds out what Freddie has been up to with her mother and breaks off their engagement. But that's not the end of Freddie - he plays a large and important role in the entire book. His mad desire for power was both repellent and fascinating. His just desserts were one of the most satisfying endings I've read in fiction.
Once Sid and India become lovers, it's glorious for them, although it must be kept in secret. I was so happy for them, but at the same time - so worried! No one can know! Sid has too many enemies who could use India against him, plus it would ruin her reputation - they're not married! He wants to leave his criminal life behind and they plan to run away together to Point Reyes, California where they can marry and start anew - but things don't go as planned. So many forces work against these two. At this point, the book was nearly impossible to put down until the end.
I won't give away anymore about the plot, but it was great! I never would have thought I'd be so into this kind of storyline of a do good woman doctor who hooks up with a no good scoundrel! But, it's so much more than that! I was on the edge of my seat. Sid's and India's lives are tumultuous. We follow them from London to Africa and it's a bumpy, rocky road! The other characters in the novel give the story that needed balance so that the reader is not too overwhelmed by what is happening to Sid and India. The side story of Fiona and Joe created some angst, but the other story of younger brother Seamie and Willa was riveting! Not only did it keep my interest - their climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro was harrowing and incredibly descriptive and well done. I felt like I was a mountain climber right there with them! I admit, as much as I loved it, it left me exhausted and I needed a break from time to time. It was easy to become swept up in all the various locales and storylines whether it was Whitechapel, Limehouse, Kenya or Mt. Kilimanjaro!
This is turning out to be a great series, although I would have liked a little more detail in the last chapter and epilogue. Hopefully we'll get more of that in the next book in the series. Still, it warmed my heart and brought tears to my eyes - it's just so good!
If you enjoy historical fiction with a heavy romantic and suspenseful storyline as well, you'll love this. Donnelly is a wonderful author and her descriptions and research are fantastic. The period comes alive - you are there with her characters! I'm bowled over by it. India and Sid's poignant romance will stay with me. Sad and memorable - though don't worry, there is a happy ending! I am really looking forward to The Wild Rose now which continues the story of Seamie and Willa!
This was an awesome read!