Review

The Tea Rose

by Jennifer Donnelly



It's said that everything old is new again and this sentiment may
ring especially true for those browsing the new fall fiction titles
popping up in bookstores. The big juicy Victorian novel is back. So
far we've had Victorian lesbian thieves in Sarah Waters'
FINGERSMITH, well-read and cunning prostitutes in Michel Faber's
THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE, and now, in the latest addition to
this trend, we have a rags-to-riches tale of a gentle tea merchant
with revenge in her heart in Jennifer Donnelly's epic THE TEA
ROSE.

Fiona Finnegan is the eldest daughter in a proud "respectable
working class" family in 1888 East London. An overworked, underpaid
employee at Burton Tea Factory, 18-year-old Fiona, dreams of one
day opening her own tea shop with boyfriend Joe Bristow. Fiona and
Joe have known each other since they were toddlers and have been
combining and saving their shillings for their tea shop ever since
they were old enough to earn them. According to their calculations,
Fiona's dream will be realized in less than a year. There are,
however, complications.

When the rumblings of unionization and strikes begin stirring at
Burton Tea, Fiona steers clear from the issue but her father,
Paddy, also a Burton employee, becomes mixed up with the burgeoning
dock workers union and is made an example of when his murder is
ordered by ruthless factory owner William Burton. His death sends
the Finnegan family into a tailspin, but the tragedies are far from
over for Fiona.

Kate Finnegan, Fiona's washerwoman mother, finds herself in the
wrong place at the wrong time and ends up a victim of the notorious
Whitechapel Murderer (a.k.a. Jack the Ripper), younger brother
Charlie turns up dead in the Thames, and Joe Bristow is duped into
marriage by the conniving daughter of his new boss. When Fiona
overhears William Burton bragging about killing her father, she
takes her remaining brother, four-year-old Seamus, and sets out to
flee the country. She has her sights set on New York City, where
her Uncle Michael has found prosperity as a grocer. The only
problem is how to get there. To the rescue rides stylish "dandy"
Nick Soames, a wealthy art collector, who agrees to pay for Fiona
and Seamie's passage to America simply because he "has a fondness
for strays." Free-thinking Fiona and flamboyant Nick form an
immediate and long-lasting bond.

Once in New York, Fiona discovers her uncle's much bragged about
prosperity is dwindling due to his mismanagement of the grocery
store and his alcoholism. She sets out to restore and improve
Michael's business and eventually begins to build her own tea
business bit by bit. Years pass and Fiona Finnegan finds herself at
the head of a vast tea empire and finally in a position to extract
the increasingly longed for revenge on the evil William
Burton.

THE TEA ROSE has already been compared to Barbara Taylor Bradford's
A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE. While it can be predictable at times, Ms.
Donnelly's work is in a class by itself. From the slums of
Whitechapel to the glittering streets of New York in the Gay '90s,
readers are in for a rollicking good time with an unforgettable
cast of characters.

Reviewed by Melissa Morgan (morgan9800@yahoo.com) on January 23, 2011

The Tea Rose
by Jennifer Donnelly

  • Publication Date: November 30, -0001
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books
  • ISBN-10: 0312288352
  • ISBN-13: 9780312288358