The Rose Trilogy by Jennifer Donnelly
The Tea Rose (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007, 592 pages)
The Winter Rose (Hyperion, 2009, 720 pages)
The Wild Rose (Hyperion, release date August 2, 2011, 640 pages)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Where I Got Them: I bought The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose for my Kindle and received The Wild Rose from the Amazon Vine Program
My Rating: 4 stars
Don’t take this the wrong way, but the books in the Rose Trilogy reminded me of the Danielle Steel books I used to devour when I was 14-years old … and I mean that in the very best way!!
I used to love Danielle Steel’s books (though I’ve “outgrown” them after being exposed to a “better” class of books) because they featured heroines who experienced all these ups and downs but who eventually triumphed over difficulties to have amazing lives. Plus they also had complicated and often tragic love lives. The Rose Trilogy has all these same elements … except with better writing and historical detail!!
The Rose Trilogy focuses on the Finnegan family—a close-knit family from the hardscrabble section of London known as Whitechapel. Family members include: family patriarch Paddy, whose leadership in the nascent union movement leads to tragedy; his wife Kate, who struggles to keep the family together despite multiple difficulties; Fiona, the oldest daughter, who is in love with the boy down the street; Charlie, the oldest son, who contributes what he can to family finances, even when that means walking on the edge of what is legal; and Seamus, the youngest son, who is just 5 years old in the first book but is featured front and center in the final book of the series.
We first meet the Finnegans in The Tea Rose. It is the 1880s in East London, and a murderer named Jack the Ripper is terrorizing the area. (Donnelly even goes so far as to unmask Jack’s “true” identity in the book.) The Tea Rose of the title refers to Fiona Finnegan, the feisty daughter who is in love with a coster (veggie salesman) named Joe Bristow. They are saving every bit of their meager wages to open up a shop of their own. However, tragedy hits the family and Joe betrays Fiona in the worst way possible—leaving Fiona and Seamus in desperate straits. Fleeing to America, Fiona struggles to survive in New York City, where she vows revenge on the man who ruined her family.
The opening book sets the tone for the entire trilogy: star-crossed lovers; continual setbacks and obstacles; rich historical detail (Donnelly isn’t afraid to incorporate real-life historical figures such as George Mallory, Jack the Ripper and Lawrence of Arabia into her books), and a plot that keeps you wondering what will befall her beleaguered characters next. (Some pretty hot and heavy sex scenes are sprinkled throughout too!) Although there is a fair amount of coincidence that strains the limits of believability, just forget all that and enjoy the ride.
The second book, The Winter Rose, has a new “rose” as its center—Dr. India Selwyn-Jones, an idealistic young doctor who dreams of opening a clinic for women and children in poverty-stricken Whitechapel. Just like Fiona in the first book, India must deal with an evil man set on ruining her life while struggling with her attraction to a criminal named Sid Malone. The book moves from London to Africa and also introduces readers to Seamus as a young man. Fiona makes periodic appearances but isn’t the primary focus of the book. Although it sounds like the book doesn’t focus as much on the Finnegan family, I’ll leave you to discover why that isn’t true!
The third and final book, The Wild Rose, features Willa Alden, the great love of Seamus Finnegan’s life, as its rose. “Wild” is the right word to describe Willa, who readers first meet in The Winter Rose. She is a fearless mountaineer who defies expectations of what women can and should do, despite a significant handicap after an accident on Mt. Kilimanjaro (which takes place in the second book). Like the other two books, this book starts in London before moving the action to Arabia during World War I.
Each book is a chunkster (all of them are 500+ pages) and requires a fairly decent time commitment, but they are the type of chunksters that move along at a steady clip. My biggest criticism is the amount of coincidence that propels the plots, but don’t let that stop you from reading the books. This was historical fiction at its best: fast-paced, far-ranging and drama-filled. I enjoyed the series immensely, and thank Jill at Rhapsody in Books for turning me on to this series. I would have never picked these books up on my own as historical fiction isn’t my preferred genre and the staid covers don’t give you a full sense of all the action, drama and romance that pack the pages inside. Highly recommended!