For years, I've admired Jennifer Donnelly's writing for young adults. From her award-winning A NORTHERN LIGHTto her more recent REVOLUTION, Donnelly weds innovative storytelling with accurate historical details to create captivating stories that are both historically authentic and thoroughly modern. Imagine my delight when I discovered recently that in addition to her books for teens, she has also written a series of historical novels marketed for adults.
"As in her young adult fiction, Donnelly does a superb job of integrating historical details without bombarding readers with them. History and literature buffs will delight at cameos by Virginia Woolf, T.E. Lawrence and others. But whether readers are enamored of history or not, they are in for a smashing good story regardless."
Starting with THE TEA ROSE, her debut novel, which focuses on London in the age of Jack the Ripper, and continuing with THE WINTER ROSE, the Rose trilogy has followed the fortunes of an interconnected group of friends and families during the turbulent decades of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Now, in THE WILD ROSE, Donnelly concludes her series with an account of the years surrounding World War I, a sweeping story that is devastating and romantic in equal measure.
At the center of the tale is Willa Alden, the intrepid alpinist who has lost her leg in a climbing accident. Still both furious at and in love with Seamus Finnegan, the man who saved her life, she has spent the better part of a decade subsuming her anger and grief in work, photographing the Himalayas and trying to determine the best route to the summit, a route she herself, fitted with a crude and painful artificial leg, no longer has any chance to pursue.
As for Seamus, he's been having plenty of adventures of his own, adventures that seem both lonely and empty without Willa by his side. He has met plenty of women since Willa, but none means what she always has --- and, he increasingly suspects, always will. When he meets the lovely, undeniably good preacher's daughter Jennie, he wonders if this might be the love who can allow him to forget Willa once and for all.
Meanwhile, another of Willa's paramours, Max von Brandt, is having a hard time forgetting her as well, even as he engages in a variety of spying schemes that threaten not only to undermine the British government but also to disrupt or even destroy the personal lives of countless others, including those at the very heart of this saga.
As in her young adult fiction, Donnelly does a superb job of integrating historical details without bombarding readers with them. History and literature buffs will delight at cameos by Virginia Woolf, T.E. Lawrence and others. But whether readers are enamored of history or not, they are in for a smashing good story regardless. Donnelly successfully (for the most part) stays just on this side of melodrama, and her characters’ outsized lives still seem plausible somehow. Or perhaps THE WILD ROSE is an outstanding example of the kind of reading pleasure that can ensue when readers set aside disbelief and put themselves in the hands of a gifted storyteller like Jennifer Donnelly.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 28, 2011