Jennifer Donnelly,
The Winter Rose
(Hyperion, 2008)

The primary focus of this sequel to The Tea Rose is India Selwyn Jones, younger daughter of an upperclass family and recent graduate of one of the first medical schools for women. India has secured a position at a clinic in Whitechapel; she sees herself as a crusader for health among the poor of London's slums.

She gets a rude awakening, however, when she finds many of her patients don't trust a woman doctor, and they take a dim view of her lectures on nutrition, the evils of drink and prostitution as a means of income. With the help of her practical nurse assistant Ella Moskowitz, she starts to gain her patients' trust and attract more to the already overworked and understaffed clinic.

In her private life, India is being pressed to set a wedding date by her fiance, Freddy Lytton, whose main interest is securing the income and property India's mother has promised him. Freddie maintains a good image on the surface, but this thin veneer hides a more sinister nature. He is one of the most interesting characters in the novel as he devolves from a self-centered but fairly decent person to a homicidal narcissist.

India resists Freddie for several reasons, one of which is that she falls in love with Sid Malone, the East Side gangster king. Although initially she loathes him and everything he stands for, she begins to understand his compassion and concern, the good he has done and the people who know and trust him. India abandons her black-and-white perspective for a more complex view of Whitechapel and its people.

Fiona Finnegan, now Bristow, is also present with a story arc that eventually merges with India's, as she searches for her brother Charlie and finds him living as none other than Sid Malone. In addition, Seamie, now grown, struggles to be independent of Fiona and becomes a dedicated adventurer.

As in The Tea Rose, the plot is packed with twists, turns, misunderstandings and happenstances. What would be trite in the hands of some writers is here colorful, purposeful storytelling. Jennifer Donnelly braids her story lines skillfully -- I have a hunch who the next "rose" will be -- and she spikes the melodrama with enough humor to keep it from cloying.

Her characters are lively, three-dimensional and appealing; even Freddie has a backstory that explains, although it does not excuse, his later actions. The people in the novel stay true to their personalities, capable of authentic emotion and self-evaluation.

The Winter Rose is another curl-up-on-the-couch book and an engrossing story packed with all the romance and adventure one could hope to experience vicariously. At the same time, the novel is solid, leaving lasting impressions on the reader who engages with it. The Winter Rose is an admirable blossom in Donnelly's bouquet.

review by
Donna Scanlon

7 June 2008

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