2008, European Historical Romance (Early 1900s [Edwardian] England and Africa)
Hyperion, $24.95, 720 pages, Amazon ASIN 1401301037 Part of a series
There are DIK books and then there are the books you wrap in Kevlar, place inside a waterproof lock box, and keep by your side at all times. The Winter Rose is only the second novel to earn that coveted honor from me. Enthralling, magical, emotional and downright funny are the first words that spring to mind when I think of Jennifer Donnellyís second book in her Tea Rose series. This practically flawless story called to the romance lover in me as well as the history nut and is very close to being a masterpiece.
Sid Malone and India Selwyn-Jones are just about as wrong for each other as two people could be. Sid is an East London gangster with very few redeeming qualities. The opening scene shows him breaking a harmless manís arm. He has no qualms about the brothels or opium dens he has a part in either. Sid, as you can guess, is a very unhero-like hero. He first clashes with India when she inspects one of his opium dens with her fiancť, Freddie. Freddie, the representing Member of Parliament for the Whitechapel area, is grooming himself for the upcoming election.
India is a newly graduated doctor. She is passionate about her career and has high hopes to open a free clinic for women and children in the East End. She accepts a position with an East End practice, quickly learning that she has her work cut out for her if sheís going to be preaching the importance of fresh fruits and vegetables to families that live off a pound a week.
Sid and India arenít fond of each other after their first meeting, but fate deals them another hand. During a heist that starts to go sour, Sid is gravely injured and eventually taken to the hospital. India is the only doctor available and takes Sid in hand, saving him with every ounce she has. She also refuses to leave his side for the first hours of his recovery and, once he regains consciousness, they talk. Itís moving, quite a turning point. They argue, console and get to know each other. Donít get me wrong. It isnít all sunshine and roses from here on out. India is still convinced that Sid is a horrible man with no morals and Sid sees India as nose-in-the-air do-gooder, with more book than street smarts. But during Sidís convalescence they discover a connection that neither wants to admit is there. Something draws them together and it is Sid who finally opens Indiaís eyes to the world of the poor and what exactly that means.
This synopsis is only the first part of the book. There is much, much more in store. We follow India and Sid through years of their lives. Fans who have read The Tea Rose (which I heartily encourage, but it isnít necessary) will love the time spent with Fiona and Joe and even Seamie, who becomes quite his own character in the last half of the book. The Winter Rose takes you on a journey through the slums of East London, to the prairies and fields of Africa, and onto the summit of Kilimanjaro. Jennifer Donnelly has such skill at transporting you to these places and times, it seems almost magical.
All the characters, new and old, leap off the page into real life. Sid is transformed under Indiaís love. Indiaís major challenge is figuring out how to deal with the twists and turns life throws at her. Freddie is her biggest obstacle - and what a low life he is. We see much through Freddieís eyes, all of his hopes, dreams and missteps. We also see exactly what course he has taken in life and how it has become more sinister. His character arc throughout the novel is the most dramatic, starting out as a not-too-nice guy to a full fledged monster. His story was the only slight setback I found. A smidge less Freddie centered scenes would have been nice.
720 pages of small print and small margins can sound a little daunting, but it took only the opening scene to hook me and it never let go until the final page. And what a final page! The closing scene alone is worth the price of the book. Iíve read many a book that I exclaimed I never wanted it to end. The Winter Rose, however, closes on such a perfectly satisfying note that I was able move on with a smile. It will be nice to read about Sid and India in Jennifer Donnellyís final installment in the series, but I already know that they are happy, living out a much deserved Happily Ever After. I couldnít ask for more.
-- Lisa Gardineer
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