The Tea Rose (Jennifer Donnelly)
Category: Historical Fiction
Synopsis (Goodreads): East London, 1888 – a city apart. A place of shadow and light where thieves, whores, and dreamers mingle, where children play in the cobbled streets by day and a killer stalks at night, where bright hopes meet the darkest truths. Here, by the whispering waters of the Thames, Fiona Finnegan, a worker in a tea factory, hopes to own a shop one day, together with her lifelong love, Joe Bristow, a costermonger’s son. With nothing but their faith in each other to spur them on, Fiona and Joe struggle, save, and sacrifice to achieve their dreams.
I should probably start this review with a disclaimer…I picked up The Tea Rose right after (finally!) finishing Ulysses. I was looking for a good story that would be easy to get into (although let’s be honest…after Ulysses, pretty much ANYTHING would be easy to read), and this book had me hooked from the prologue given a fascination I have always had with all things Jack-the-Ripper related.
I love historical fiction, IF well researched and with interesting characters. In The Tea Rose, Jennifer Donnelly does a wonderful job of bringing Whitechapel and the tea trade in the late 1800s to life with vivid and well-researched descriptions, with the writing and dialogue also authentic to the time and place (trust me, this is soooooooo important…there’s nothing worse than modern language and vernacular in historical stories – it DRIVES ME UP THE WALL!).
Fiona Finnegan is exactly the sort of feisty character that I enjoyed spending time with as she developed from a willful, somewhat petty teenager into an independent and strong woman very much ahead of her time. She’s a thoroughly likeable character that I consistently found myself cheering for as she overcame all the hardships thrown her way to become a successful entrepreneur in her own right.
Apart from Nicholas Soames, whose spirit and humour I fell in love with, most of the male characters were too one-dimensional – Joe Bristow in particular annoyed me for most of the book even if he does eventually semi-redeem himself.
While the book is by no means perfect, being a fairly predictable rags-to-riches story, the engrossing story telling and a varied cast of characters gave me exactly what I needed at the time…an escape into another time and place. I look forward to spending more time with Fiona & Co in the other two novels in the trilogy.