15 September 2008

Review: Jennifer Donnelly - The Winter Rose

Hardcover: 720 pages
Publisher: Hyperion (January 8, 2008)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1401301037
ISBN-13: 978-1401301033

When India Selwyn Jones, a young woman from a noble family, graduates from the London School of Medicine for Women in 1900, her professors advise her to set up her practice in London's esteemed Harley Street. Driven and idealistic, India chooses to work in the city's East End instead, serving the desperately poor.

In these grim streets, India meets--and saves the life of--London's most notorious gangster, Sid Malone. A hard, wounded man, Malone is the opposite of India's aristocratic fiancé, Freddie Lytton, a rising star in the House of Commons. Though Malone represents all she despises, India finds herself unwillingly drawn ever closer to him, intrigued by his hidden, mysterious past.

Though they fight hard against their feelings, India and Sid fall in love, and their unpredictable, passionate and bittersweet affair causes destruction they could never have imagined. Sweeping from London to Kenya to the wild, remote coast of California, The Winter Rose is a breathtaking return to the epic historical novel, from a masterful writer with a fresh, richly vivid, and utterly electrifying voice.


India Selwyn Jones is driven to become a doctor, to make a difference in the world, to heal those who cannot afford medical care but need it desperately. Upon receiving her degree she is eager, full of ideals and passion as she is to start her job as a doctor in the Whitechapel district. It is on her very first day that nurse Ella teaches her something new: the way of medical care for the people of Whitechapel. So much for India’s ideals. Still they die hard and India will do anything to make healthcare for the woman and children in this part of London of better quality.

But India is circling in a men’s world and it is men that sidetrack her from her goals or make it almost impossible for her to achieve them. Sid Malone enters her life as a patient but triggers something deep and hidden within her. No conversation goes without India lecturing him and Sid as a criminal speaks the language and wisdom of the street in return. There is also her fiancé Freddie Lytton, he comes from the same background as her namely, the aristocracy. They are engaged for two years now and Freddie as an MP in the House of Lords has great aspirations for himself that clashes with the dreams of India.

Political conspiracy, murder, the people of Whitechapel, one woman’s dream and a man’s road to redemption... Sid Malone and India Jones will embark a journey of the heart. The question is: Will the rest of the world agree with that?

This summary is a mere glimpse of what is to come as Winter Rose took me on such an epic journey, all the separate threads weave a magnificent story and it had me enthralled for 700 pages. The time period of the early 1900’s is superbly brought to life through the writing skill of Jennifer Donnelly. With painstaking reality it is the people in Whitechapel that stir the scream for justice in me. With an eye for detail and knowledge of the district it bares the foundation for this story and it is the circumstances of the inhabitants, their way of life and language that gives emotion and color to an already grand tale.

India is a woman that has an inner strength, she wants to lead her life on her own terms, practice medicine in her own way and both her senior doctor as her fiancé don’t get that. It is with Freddie Lytton that the author introduces a character whom unfolds such a talent for devious planning, such selfishness, just so he can obtain what he thinks is rightfully his. Freddie is just one of those characters that will add the layers of mystery and tragic events to this story, yet in a different way Sid Malone is another. For me he was the ultimate rogue, a bit of a villain with at the core his heart in the right place. Sid’s past is one of survival and starts in The Tea Rose and now we meet him again as he has build up an empire for himself in the East of London.

India and Sid together are like black and white, two opposites of each other that makes you wonder if they will ever have more than a distant politeness. It is in their conversations together that I find passion, a wisdom of the street versus wisdom of the mind and this creates such vibrant discussions which all together left me convinced it would lead to more, to something bigger. For me Sid Malone turned out to be a complicated man but one that also proved to be very interesting to unravel! It is a gradual romance that in the end will touch your heart and will always let you remember their story.

Sid and India are the core of this novel but there are so many more characters that add their own voice. I enjoyed myself with nurse Ella whom became such a dear friend to India, together they defy the boundaries of conventional medicine practiced by the male counterparts. They each touched each other’s lives and made them a better person for it. The thugs working for Sid, the aristocratic friends of India and Fiona Finnegan with her husband and children just enriched this tale even more.

With a background that speaks of politically changing times it completes the picture of an England at the beginning of a new era as the Labor party demands more, wants more and will take nothing less than a voice in Parliament. The plot is vastly set up with various sub plots going on and it lures you even more to turn the pages and read until the early morning hours. It took me from drab and cold London to a warm and colorful Africa and it is there that events unfurl for Seamus, the brother of Fiona, that ripped at my heart and I instantly knew that his story commenced here at the mountain of Kilimanjaro.

It is again, as with the Tea Rose, that this novel is divided in to three episodes and it is the third that explains it all. Revealing all the information that held me so captivated in the desire to know and if there is one minor flaw to this novel it is the absence of an epilogue. The romance soars high at the ending but it also ended a bit abrupt leaving me with a few questions I long to see answered and I can only hope that the author will do so in the third and final entry to this trilogy.

Jennifer Donnelly is the kind of author that bares such a quality in her novels that it will prove to stand the test of time. In a hundred years they will still be reading Winter Rose. This is just awe inspiring romance!

He’s been there again, materializing out of thin air like a guardian angel, when a group of drunken first years from Guy’s had surrounded herself and Harriet outside the school’s entrance. The men exposed themselves, demanding to have their members examined. “Unfortunately, gentlemen, my students cannot comply with your request.” He said, “as they are not permitted to take their microscopes out of the building.”

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