Title: The Tea Rose
Author: Jennifer Donnelly
Published: 2002, St. Martin's Press
Category: Historical Fiction
I almost always read series in order (I think most avid readers are careful about this), but this is an exception. I read The Winter Rose a couple months ago and loved it, so it was obvious I needed to read this book, which is the first in the trilogy.
Fiona Finnegan is a very young girl living in Whitechapel, one of the poorer areas of London, around the turn of the 20th century. Her life isn't easy, but her fortunes seem to be on the rise: she's in love with Joe Bristow, a bright and irresistible young man, they're saving up to get married and open a store, and they just know that happiness is right around the corner. Then a series of horrible events leaves her orphaned and penniless, abandoned by her lover and with no one to turn to. She jumps on a ship for New York and starts again there, determined to make her dreams come true.
This is one of those beefy historical novels that I love. It is epic at 557 pages, and it is a big story that spans over a decade. I found it intensely readable--jam-packed with lovable characters, as well as some truly hate-worthy villains.
At one point Fiona is likened to the tea rose, a rare kind of rose that smells of tea. I can't find the exact quote now (I flagged it, but my post-it fell off!) but it was something about how tea roses can seem delicate, but in fact are extremely tenacious and hard to kill. In the middle there when Fiona's life is falling apart, I was a little annoyed by the seemingly never-ending tragedies that happen to her. But they are not dwelled on too much, and Fiona's ability to pick herself up and move on with her life does make her a very admirable character. I think if all that happened to me I'd just whimper and expire. ;)
I did like The Winter Rose a bit better because I found India and Sid to be more interesting main characters than Fiona and Joe. Their motivations in life are more admirable (helping the poor vs. revenge and making a lot of money), and the impediment to their relationship is more exciting (Sid's gangsta past vs. Joe's big mistake).
I do wish that I had read this one before The Winter Rose -- one of the final scenes that should have been really surprising was not because I knew an important fact from the 2nd book. So I'd recommend reading these in order, though they do stand alone very well. I will definitely be reading the third in the trilogy when it comes out. Does anyone know the title, or when it will be published?