Jennifer Donnelly weaves a story with the best of authors. I have been waiting for the third part of the trilogy since June, 2008 when I finished The Winter Rose. Can I just say that it was so worth the wait?
The novel opens in 1914 with England and Europe on the verge of World War II and in the throes of the suffragette movement, economic distress, and espionage. The reader is reacquainted with Fiona and Joe Bristow and their children, Seamus Finnegan, Maud and India Selwyn Jones, Willa Alden, and Max van Brandt and the story ensues. Fiona and Joe have a feisty daughter, Kate, who carries on the family fight for rights and political equity. Seamus has returned from the expedition to the South Pole and Willa is attempting her climb of Mt. Everest. Their paths all cross and are intertwined in complex relationships and twists. It is very hard to relate or summarize such a novel because of the turns that the plot takes from beginning to end. Suffice it to say that the reader remains engaged, enthralled and on the edge of her seat as it progresses.
Donnelly is a master of setting her novels and characters in the midst of historical events. The Wild Rose is not an exception. Not only do we encounter the likes of Henry Asquith, liberal Prime Minister of England, Ernest Shackelton, Winston Churchill, and Lawrence of Arabia, but we are thrust into the dark days of the Spanish Flu epidemic and the bawdy days of Parisian bohemian life. I was glad that a good friend had made me watch Lawrence of Arabia. It made the scenes in the book much easier to comprehend. This volume of the trilogy centers around Seamus Finnegan, the third of the Finnegan children and his true love, Willa. At the end of The Winter Rose we are left with Seamie leaving Willa at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro and Willa heading for Mt. Everest. Of all the trilogy's characters, these two are the least likeable and one finds oneself wanting to shake them and awake them to the realities of life. Yes, Willa has lost a leg, but her whiny self deprecation and piteousness are way over the top. On the other hand, she has an incredible sense of adventure and, at least for some of the novel, a real desire to live life to its fullest. Seamie needs to understand that love is for life and women are not trophies to collect and count.
Not only does Donnelly craft characters, but she is a master of mood and setting. As the reader follows the action from Westminster to Wapping, from Cairo to Damascus, or from Nepal to Paris, the sounds, sights and even aromas spring to life. You know that the author has experienced the places about which she writes and that she can convey those pictures in an extremely graphic manner.
In the end, which by the way is a stellar shock and has a jaw-dropping effect, the book is the epitome of highly crafted writing and research. I reiterate: I aspire to be Jennifer Donnelly's research assistant. She addresses age-old problems of drug abuse, the mental effects of war, and the political machinations of those who aspire to leadership. I do hope that the characters will reappear, possible in a new series with Kate Bristow as the protagonist. I want to know more about her and her new-found career. But, for the moment, I will basque in the pleasure of having just read another marvelous tome by Jennifer Donnelly.