Monday, May 8, 2017

The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Reviewed by Christy H.

Jennifer Donnelly’s Tea Rose series, which began with The Tea Rose in 2002, is a sweeping historical fiction epic in every sense of the word. Crossing continents and spanning years, lost love and found love, it’s probably not for fans of instant gratification.  The last in the series is no exception.

            The Wild Rose begins in 1914 and continues throughout World War I and beyond. While there are several compelling storylines, the heart of the novel is Seamus Finnegan, the youngest of the Finnegan brood, and Willa Alden. (Each book chronicles one of the Finnegan siblings in a mostly stand-alone story. While reading in order may make a reader appreciate character cameos and side plots a little bit more, it’s not necessary. Donnelly does a deft job of explaining – or in my case refreshing – the Finnegan family history.) Willa and Seamus haven’t seen each other for many, many years. Not since Willa lost one of her legs in a mountain climbing accident. Losing the ability to climb almost broke Willa, and she often thinks she would rather be dead than unable to climb and explore. Seamus saved her life, and she couldn’t forgive him for it. Unfortunately, more heartache awaits them both.

            Actually, there is plenty of heartache to go around for all of Donnelly’s characters – and there are quite a few of them too. Along with the Finnegan siblings and their children, there are so many new characters I had some trouble keeping up with them. Fortunately, I found all the side plots interesting even if I sometimes couldn’t remember names. A lot of times with similar books there is always at least one subplot where readers feel disappointed when the narrative shifts back to it because they just don’t care. That didn’t happen here. There is so much going on that it is almost difficult to summarize but I will say this novel includes suffragists, espionage, deadly sandstorms, the underbelly of London, train explosions, a flu epidemic, and even the dreaded Love Triangle. And while the latter is not one of my favorite tropes, I have to say I was never bored. (And to Donnelly’s credit, she does not try to vilify the third wheel in the triangle just to make it easier for readers to root for the other two. Instead, the character is a kind and courageous woman who is easy to like and empathize with.) 

            There were a few contrived plot devices that conveniently helped solve some problems and some of the dialogue felt, at times, unnatural; overall, though, I really enjoyed this novel. The pacing is never rushed but it never seems to drag either. Not an easy feat for a book with over 600 pages. As always, I look forward to Donnelly’s future offerings.

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