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Jennifer Donnelly – The Winter Rose

December 15, 2007

LibraryThing Early Reviewers122. The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly (2008)
The Roses, Book 2

Length: 720 pages
Genre: Historical fiction

Started: 13 December 2007
Finished: 15 December 2007

Summary: India Selwyn Jones is a recently-graduated doctor in London in 1900. Although she is from an aristocratic background and is engaged to a member of Parliment, she is idealistic and driven to help the poor women and children of East London with medical service they can’t afford. Sid Malone is the criminal boss of East London, with a troubled past and a violent lifestyle. An unlikely pair, but when India saves Sid’s life, they begin to fall in love, which has repercussions on the rest of their lives, the lives of those around them, and their entire community.

Review: I found this book to be completely engaging; I tore through the 700+ pages in less than three days. The premise is pretty simple, and has been done before: naive rich girl falls for the criminal with a heart of gold, complications ensue. However, what I thought set this book apart was the setting and the atmosphere that it has thanks to Donnelly’s copious historical research. The book has a real feel for turn-of-the-century East London, and conveys that feel without being overly obtrusive about the description. I did find that characters were a little bit flat – not one-dimensional, but lacking in moral complexity: the good guys were completely good (even Sid), while the bad guys were completely bad, with not a lot of grey area. However, the complexitiy that was lacking in the characters or in the premise was made up for by the quick-moving and enthralling story.There was some really clunky exposition early on, where Donnelly paraphrased the entire plot of The Tea Rose – this book is a sequel of sorts, with the main characters of the first as secondary characters in the second, although it’s not necessary to have read The Tea Rose to understand The Winter Rose. There was also too much time spent on a tangential story line in the last third of the book – it’s almost certainly there to set up the next book (which I would lay even money will be titled The Mountain Rose). It’s not bad, or even uninteresting, but it’s time spent away from India and Sid, and it comes off as a bit of a distraction. Apart from those issues, though, I thought the writing was fine – nothing particularly marvelous, but it does its job without getting in the way of the story. Overall, this book wasn’t perfect, but it tells a ripping good story in an excellently-drawn setting, and despite its flaws, it was very difficult to put down once I’d picked it up. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Recommended to anyone who enjoys their historical fiction blended in with a solid (if not astounding or particularly original) love story.

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First Line: Lily Walker could smell a copper a mile away.

Vocab:

  • p. 3: “In poor neighborhoods filled with hungry people, they looked as plump and glossy as veal calves, fattened up from all the free meals they cadged.” – to obtain by imposing on another’s generosity or friendship.
    .
  • p. 3: “But before Frankie could make a move, a fresh drink appeared on the bar in front of him. Desi Shaw, the publican, had put it there.” – a person who owns or manages a tavern; the keeper of a pub.
    .
  • p. 7: “It was opened by a rangy man in shirtsleeves and a waistcoat who made no effort to hide the cosh he was holding.” – a blackjack; bludgeon.
    .
  • p. 16: “He was tall and slender, beautifully dressed in a cutaway coat and cheviot trousers.” – a woolen fabric in a coarse twill weave, for coats, suits, etc.
    .
  • p. 167: “He might be head of a retail empire now and more used to plush boardrooms than street corners, but he’d been born and bred a costermonger – and costers were never short of words.” – one who sells fruit, vegetables, fish, etc., from a cart, barrow, or stall in the streets.
    .
  • p. 169: ““They’re breaking strikes with lockouts and blacklegs, and they won’t stop there.”” – A worker who is opposed to trade unions; a scab.
    .
  • p. 641: “Nairobi prison might not be Newgate, but it still had a warden, and a jailer, and armed askaris standing guard.” – a native African police officer or soldier, esp. one serving a colonial administration.
    .
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