Review: The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly

Thursday, June 23, 2011
A note about my netgalley reviews: as these are typically books that are due to be released soon, I try to be pretty spoiler free. I'd hate to ruin a book for someone who has been looking forward to its publication. Unfortunately, that kills a lot of my snark and humor, especially with this particular series. So, if this review feels a bit "off" from how I normally go about things, that would be why.

Days after it was promised, my reviews:

Genre: historical fiction, romance novel-ish
Series: The Tea Rose #3
Pages: 640 (Nook; netgalley ARC)
Published: August 2011
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4.5/5

A great, sprawling epic of a novel, The Wild Rose concluded the fantastic (and fantastically outrageous) Tea Rose series exactly as it began: outlandish, touching and utterly compelling to read. In this series, I started out just merely liking the introductory novel The Tea Rose, and absolutely loving the second The Winter Rose; the middle of those two emotions is how I feel about the finishing tale of the Finnegans and their extended, varied family. There were parts I utterly loved, as well as parts I wanted to kill every character upon the page. In this woeful tale of Seamus Finnegan and Willa Alden, there are: German spies and spy networks, Lawrence of Arabia, women's suffrage in England, extramarital affairs aplenty, World War I, the Spanish flu, Turkish prisons and torture, and the hardly-worth-mentioning now, star-crossed lovers.

This novel had a slower start than the previous two. In the other novels, the plot shot out like a rocket from the first chapter. In this installment, there is a lot more buildup, more tension added to the atmosphere of the story. Told expertly in third person omniscient, I thoroughly enjoyed being able to get into the mind of whatever POV character (and there were quite a few!) was narrating.  It almost feels like the author took the first hundred and fifty pages to simply set up the scenario, and the characters in minute detail.  However, once the war starts, the book really begins to move along and becomes an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel. While it was nice reading all the back story of Sid, Fiona, etc. of the intervening years between the books, I found myself impatient for the outlandishness to begin. The narrative once again jumps many years in between parts. I for one, find these time lapses occasionally jarring; I'd personally much rather prefer a more linear story.

As Fiona's tale was told in The Tea Rose, and Sid's was in The Winter Rose, The Wild Rose tells the long-winded and often tragic story of Seamie Finnegan, the last of the Finnegan children met in the first book.  Seamie is a daredevil and a rogue, full of charm and warmth. Possessing a permanent wanderlust and itchy feet, Seamie meets his match in the strong, fiercely independent Willa Alden. Though they've both loved each other since they were children, time and circumstance (and their own dumb decisions) have conspired to keep them apart. While Seamie and Willa were climbing Kili in The Winter Rose, Willa fell from the peak of the mountain, losing her leg and (to her) the meaning of her life. Unable to cope with the loss of climbing and her freedom and Seamie's unwillingness to let her die on the mountain, Willa abandoned Seamie in Mombasa at the end of the Winter Rose.

 Willa is a difficult woman and character. She's a hard and driven person, and utterly believable in her determination and competitiveness. Her love of the wild and the untamed is the fire inside her; a passion that is matched by only one person: Seamie Finnegan. At the same time, her "poor, poor me" routine wore thin after a couple hundred pages. Unlike India and Fiona, who though lacking Willa's exterior ferocity, were irrepressible and always fought for themselves and who they loved, Willa is more self-pitying and self-destructive.  I eventually was won over by her bravery and depth of feeling, but for most of the novel I was not a huge fan of the character for which I should have had the most sympathy. The evolution of Willa's character was handled beautifully: growing from a self-centered, destructive girl into a protective, loving, mature woman.

With World War I looming in the background, Willa's loss of her leg is a well-planned foreshadowing of the damage this war would wreak on England and its people. Mirroring the destruction of the world around them, throughout the course of the novel both Seamie and Willa do their damnedest to tear themselves apart at any chance they get. The World War I storyline was by far the most affecting and moving part of the novel. The terror of battle fatigue and misunderstanding of the depth of the horror of those battlefield atrocities show Willa's attitude over her leg and Seamie as what it is: shallow self pity. Once that period of Willa was over, my enjoyment of her story increased greatly.

Donnelly does a much better job of restraining herself from going overboard with historical figure camoes and appearances. Focusing more on her actual charismatic actual cast of characters strengthens the plot and does wonders for originality. There are a few token appearances (King Edward, various Prime Ministers, Lawrence of Arabia) but compared to the previous novels, it's a marvelous reduction in superfluous characters. One thing that did not benefit was the recapping. Once again ridiculously prevalent and long-winded, the recaps failed to add anything to the new story. Possibly added for those readers who haven't read the first two in order to catch up, they're more distracting than helpful in the long run. And once again, Donnelly truly succeeds at creating marvelously rich atmospheres for her charters. From the lush, brace Bedouins in the Arabian desert to the stark horror of a medical hospital for battle fatigued soldiers, each scene sparkles with richness and depth.

The ending, though riveting and full of unseen surprises that left my jaw on the floor, wasn't entirely satisfactory. A lot of questions and plotlines were left unresolved or haning. I'm of two minds about this: either Ms. Donnelly has left the door open for another Finnegan family yarn, or I am too nitpicky. I very much enjoyed this novel as well as this series. Maturing from the Mary Sue character Fiona began as, Donnelly has created a vivid novel peopled with strong, flawed, believable women in a time period where women were much maligned and repressed. I have to say, if Donnelly were to write another (Katie Bristow as the main character?!!) I would be first in line to read it.


  1. The very last line of this review is so telling. When you're excited to read an author's future work, it means that author has done their job well. I do wonder why she chose to go with a different type of main character in the third part of the series, but that is also a really interesting choice.

  2. I knew I was hooked when despite my initial apathy for the character, I was worried what would happen to her. I like authors that experiment with their writing and change style/ideas so I can appreciate the difference in characters, I just loved the earlier ones more :)

    And holy moly, you were up late! I can't make it past midnight anymore :D

  3. I loved both books....I have this one waiting in the wings.

    THANKS for the great review.

    I have two separate giveaways going on…one is for NIGHT TRAIN and one is my Blog Hop giveaway of HOW TO READ THE AIR.



  4. What a great review. I am thinking about adding the book to my TBR pile. Love your blog. I am a new follower GFC. I would love a visit/follow on my blog. I am having a give away today and hope you enter. Thanks. Donna

  5. I love your "About me". Too cute and oh so true for so many of us! Donna

  6. I haven't read this series yet, but have another of her books coming up for a book club read. I will be looking into them!

  7. Donna: thanks so much for stopping by! It's a pretty good book, this author has really grown on me! I entered your giveaway and am now a follower! I also really like the name of your blog :)

    Lauren: Looks like you're off to a great start with your blog! I hope you enjoy Jennifer Donnelly as an author, she has grown on me like moss!

  8. Also, I have tagged you in a game of blog tag should you wish to play. :) And, I think we must be in different time zones. I'm on EST. I don't think I've been up past one am in years. I'm such an old lady, I was born one.

  9. I haven't heard of the series but I love anything to do with WWII era. Very thorough review.

  10. How does one play blog tag, Libby? I'll head over and check it out. And we are! I'm out in Arizona!

    Sharon: It's WWI, sorry if I goofed up there and said WWII. It's a tremendously brilliant novel, and series :)


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