Friday, August 05, 2011

The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

The Wild Rose is a part of the sweeping, multi-generational saga that began with The Tea Rose and continued with The Winter Rose. It is London, 1914. World War I looms on the horizon, women are fighting for the right to vote, and explorers are pushing the limits of endurance in the most forbidding corners of the earth. Into this volatile time, Jennifer Donnelly places her vivid and memorable characters:

•Willa Alden, a passionate mountain climber who lost her leg while summiting Kilimanjaro with Seamus Finnegan, and who will never forgive him for saving her life;

•Seamus Finnegan, a polar explorer who tries to forget Willa as he marries a beautiful young schoolteacher back home in England;

•Max von Brandt, a handsome German sophisticate who courts high society women, but has a secret agenda in wartime London.

Many other beloved characters from The Winter Rose continue their adventures in The Wild Rose as well. With myriad twists and turns, thrilling cliffhangers, and fabulous period detail and atmosphere, The Wild Rose provides a highly satisfying conclusion to an unforgettable trilogy.

Back in 2006 I read and adored the second book in the Rose trilogy by Jennifer Donnelly, The Winter Rose. Little did I imagine that it was going to be another five years before I finally go to read the conclusion to the trilogy. After all, at one stage there was a release date of May 2008 up at Amazon UK, and then it was changed to May 2009. When that date passed, I forced myself to only get excited when there was a definitely publishing date, and finally, finally that day has come.

The big danger of wanting a book so badly for a period of five years or more is that it will be very difficult for any book, no matter how much you like it, to live up to those expectations and that is what has happened with this book. While I liked it, it didn't quite live up to the label that I had given the book of the most anticipated release of 2011.

All the characters that we have come to know and love have returned in this final part of the Rose trilogy, along with some new ones. Fiona and Joe Bristow are back along with their children, especially their politically active daughter Katie. India and Sid drift in and out of the story particularly in the early part of the book (although I must say that for me Sid stole the scenes that he was in most of the time), but the main couple that is the focus of this particular episode of the saga are Seamie Finnegan and Willa Alden.

As individuals, Seamie and Willa are both somewhat daredevil. Seamie has been on polar expeditions and returned to London with great public acclaim, Willa lives an isolated life in the shadows of Mt Everest trying to put her life back together after the closing events that were covered in The Winter Rose. Seamie and Willa share a great passion for adventure, and for each other, but it seems that circumstances are destined to keep them apart.

If you are to take only one thing from this review, it should probably be that Jennifer Donnelly loves to absolutely torture her characters whether it be physically or emotionally and that is definitely true in this book. There are traitors and spies, betrayal, infidelity, physical danger, political and social upheaval, not to mention the involvement of characters in World War I.

One thing that Donnelly does do well is to involve many of the foremost figures of the day. Through the family's various connections the reader gets to "meet" characters such as Ernest Shackleton, Lawrence of Arabia, sometimes in overly coincidental situations, and be involved in events and issues like the suffragette movement.

I was going to try and do some kind of plot summary, but I am not sure that I could do it justice - there is just so much going on. Beyond that busyness of the plot though, the biggest flaw with this book is actually the two main characters. I struggled with Seamie and Willa, both with the twists and turns of their relationship, and also with them as individuals. Willa spends a lot of time in a drug induced haze, mostly to deal with managing pain due to losing a leg (I guess it isn't a spoiler if it is in the book description right?), and Seamie is meant to be the returning adventure hero, but many of his actions were far from heroic.

I do have to make a comment about the cover of this book. The thing that initially attracted me to The Tea Rose was the gorgeous cover, and that was true of The Winter Rose as well. This cover does not sit all that well against those two. I am not saying it isn't an attractive cover but if it is meant to represent Willa it doesn't do it for me, and it is just kind of generic to me. Of course, there might be plenty of people out there who disagree with me on that, and that's fine!

I am glad that we are no longer waiting for this book to come out. I assume though that means that we have quite a wait for the next Jennifer Donnelly book. Whilst this book didn't quite meet my unrealistically high expectations (particularly against my memories of The Winter Rose), it is still a fun, juicy saga of the best kind, and I can't wait to see what she bring us next.

Rating 4/5


  1. Ah! I just recently started this series. I'm enjoying it so far.

  2. I just read a similarly, mildly disappointed review for this book. If I had started the series, I'm sure I'd finish it, but having learned about it through the reviews of the last book, I'm not so sure! Thanks for the review, though.

  3. I couldn't agree more, I was very weary of Willa's pity parties by the end. I did love see more of Joe, Fiona, Sid and India.

  4. I unfortunately think I agree with you on this one. I didn't wait quite so long for this book, having only read The Winter Rose earlier this year, but it was overall not as good. I think it was Seamie and Willa, like you say - I did enjoy reading the book, but they weren't great characters.

  5. I have all the books in this series, and am looking forward to starting them. It sounds like I may have to temper my expectations with this one though, as it sounds like it's not as good as some have hoped it would be. I really liked your candor in this review and think that it will be interesting to see the progression from book to book.

  6. Zibilee, if you are wanting a big old fashioned saga, then this is the series to pick. Like I said though, The Winter Rose is my absolutely favourite of the trilogy.

    Meghan, yes, I don't quite know what it was about both Seamie and Willa that just didn't gel in this book for me. I did like them in the previous book.

    Misfit, would happily have read more about the other two couples for sure.

    Col, I am a bit completist when it comes to series, so if I started it, I would certainly try to finish it. It would be interesting to compare my opinion to someone who didn't have such high expectations because this was their first look at the series.

    Pam, it is a fun series.

  7. I agree with you that The Winter Rose is the best. I would say this one is my least favorite of the three. ...which is not to say I didn't love it, just not as much! One really has to miss Sid. Seamie is a bit like him, but not enough! Unfortunately she had me hating Max so much that I couldn't change that by the end.....

  8. I hope to start this series before the year is out. Sounds like I'm in for some great reading!