I wouldn't seek out Charles Dickens at a dinner party either. Nevermind that he'd be a ghost. I never liked Dickens. THE WINTER ROSE is what Dickens would have wrote if he was a woman and had a compelling writing style. It's set mostly on the dirty side of London around the turn of the 20th century and Ms. Donnelly doesn't clean it up one bit. This is actually a sequel or a second in a series, but it totally stands alone. I never got lost once. Some may label this as a Historical Romance. I don't. To me, this is a solid Historical engrossing the social ills and upheavals of British society way back during the days when the future King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra were young and Victoria was still on the Throne. There is romance, but it's the kind of romance in which the Bad Boy is converted to good by the loving example of the Heroine. I've never seen that happen in Real Life, so it never captures my imagination in fiction. Back when I was single, I was very unforgiving of the male gender. If the guy didn't already have it together, I wasn't interested - no matter how cute he was. However, for those of you who find that kind of romance appealling, I think you'll find this one well done simply because the characters are so well-rounded and real, breathing-feeling characters. Still, I'd call it a secondary element in this story.
Sid Malone is a man with a tragic, twisted past. In fact, that's not even his real name. It's the name of a man he killed in self-defense. He figured no one would believe it was self-defense, so he assumed the identity and let his old identity die since he felt like a nobody anyway. He wasn't a nobody to his sister, however. Fiona shared the same terrible childhood, but managed to overcome it to become a tea tycoon. She still upsets her loving husband trying to find her long-lost brother. The married romance of Fiona was well-done, especially the part about her feeling extra-frisky while pregnant. It's a common misconception that all women hate nookie while pregnant. Well, it just ain't true!
India Jones is one of the first women doctors in England during a time when a lot of doctors still didn't believe washing their hands was important. After abandoning the family title and money and enduring having mud slung at her by male students, she's graduated and gone to work for one of these doctors. She's idealistic and determined to make a difference. She quickly learns what that will cost her. What she doesn't know is that her handsome Member of Parliament fiance who professes his utter devotion is only after her family's money while secretly bonking a mistress and a string of prostitutes.
During the course of trying to save malnourished mothers from dying while giving birth to children they haven't the money or strength to care for, India saves the life of Sid Malone. The story twists and turns and their relationship develops. India secretly dispenses contraceptives to one of her fiance's prostitutes and things really start flying apart. At that time in England, dispensing contraceptives was illegal, despite the fact that women and babies were dying in horrific numbers.
Like I said, this isn't my usual kind of story. The love scenes are Highly Sensual, which is fine by me when the story's well-done like this one. But besides that, the acts of prostitution and the medical scenes, such as India trying to save a woman after a backstreet abortion, are described in detail. You know I have a weak stomach and usually can't handle that - not after four high risk pregnancies of my own! However, Ms. Donnelly does such a superb job weaving the story together that she never lost me for a moment. When she details a teenage prostitute dying after a backstreet abortion, it only adds to the power of the Heroine's character. So, don't shy away from this one, but do be prepared.
Up next week - PIRATICA by Tanith Lee. I can't wait. Alaska's very dark right now and I could really use an adventure on the high seas!