Her gray eyes sparked with passion as she spoke. Sid looked into them and for a second he glimpsed her soul. He saw what she was – fierce and brave. Difficult. Upright. Impatient. And good. So good that she would sit covered in gore, shout at dangerous men, and keep a long, lonely vigil – all to save the likes of him. He realized that she was a rare creature, as rare as a rose in winter. -From The Winter Rose, page 126-
India Selwyn Jones is a medical doctor – graduating from the London School of Medicine for Women in 1900. Determined to make a difference, she begins practice in Whitechapel – a seedy, poverty stricken are of East London. She arrives with little experience, but armed with her ideals and a dream to make a difference. Then, one night, she saves a man’s life – a man far removed from her privileged upbringing, one who lives his life on the dark streets as part of a gang of criminals – and India’s life is turned upside down. Sid Malone, India’s green eyed love interest, provides the conflict and tension in The Winter Rose.
Jennifer Donnelly has written an epic novel which spans the globe from the streets of London to the plains of Africa. The Winter Rose is first and foremost a love story, with all the twists, turns, and tragedy that such stories bring. But, it is also an historical novel which explores the underside of British politics in the 1900s, the cultural divide between posh London and the poverty of Whitechapel, and colonialism in Africa.
The novel has its flaws – namely its predictability and its tendency to try to cover too much ground at times. Some of the characters are a bit stereotypcial, such as the evil Freddie Lytton. But despite its shortcomings, The Winter Rose had me compulsively turning the pages. It is highly readable and the kind of book I like to classify as a guilty pleasure.
Donnelly is careful to provide adequate background and recapping of the novel’s prequel (The Tea Rose) so that readers new to the series need not fear being able to navigate The Winter Rose. I was captivated enough by this massive tome to be curious about the next book in the series – The Wild Rose – which is out in the UK, but has not yet hit the bookstores in the USA.
I read this book for Library Thing’s Early Review program, and am glad I requested it. Recommended for readers who love historical fiction and romance.