Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Book Review: The Winter Rose

I'm not really sure how I feel about this book, honestly. I found the plot engrossing and the 700 pages went pretty quickly, but at the same time I had some problems.

This book starts in 1900 London with the graduation of India Selwyn Jones from a female medical school. She grew up in a wealthy, aristocratic family, but is somewhat estranged from her family because of her decision to pursue medicine. India is determined to make a difference in the poorer parts of London, particularly the East End, but once she starts working she realizes that she knows nothing about the people there. The high morals standards and health habits that she'd been taught and had been preaching didn't seem to have much place in Whitechapel. It takes a while for her to realize that, and she does it with the help of Sid Malone, the most infamous crime lord in the East End.

When India was young she lost the boy that she loved in tragic circumstances, so she is determined never to love like that again. That's the reason why she settles and accepts the proposal of her childhood friend, Freddie, a young MP who is blazing a trail for himself through Westminster. But Sid Malone makes her feel things that Freddie never did, and suddenly India starts to believe that Sid might be worth taking another chance on.

There is way, way more going on in this book, but I don't want to to give too much of it away. I was really impressed by the effort that went into the plotting, and Donnelly clearly has a real talent for coming up with gripping stories. But at the same time this book was filled with so many coincidences that it was just hard to believe all of them. After reading this book you would think that there were only a dozen people living in London's East End in 1900 because of the rather remarkable connections between all of these people. But I've read The Classic Slum. I'm pretty sure that wasn't the case. When those coincidences and connections start spanning the globe, it gets even more ridiculous, I thought. But hey, it is a novel, so I guess I can excuse that for the sake of entertainment.

My other complaint is Donnelly's writing style. I always hesitate to criticize the writing style of the authors I review because I know I could never in my wildest dreams do what they go, so who am I to judge? At the same time, there is something to be said about a writer who can tell you something without coming out and telling you in a sentence that looks like something a third grader would diagram (noun, verb, etc.). Donnelly isn't quite to that point in her own writing because there were so many blunt statements that lacked any kind of lyrical quality which I consider to be the mark of fine writing. This is only her third book and only her second adult novel (she wrote a YA novel as well). I really think my complaints in that department have more to do with that than anything else. I'm sure that a couple books down the road she will really have come into herself because this book shows a lot of talent.

So in conclusion, I'd say that this was an engrossing historical novel that I enjoyed reading, but it was far from flawless.

Lindsey's Grade: B

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