Review: The Tea Rose

Review: The Tea RoseThe Tea Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Series: The Tea Rose #1
Published by St. Martin's Griffin on March 11, 2002
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Romance
Pages: 544
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

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.

But Fiona's life is shattered when the actions of a dark and brutal man take from her nearly everything-and everyone-she holds dear. Fearing her own death, she is forced to flee London for New York. There, her indomitable spirit propels her rise from a modest West Side shop-front to the top of Manhattan's tea trade. But Fiona's old ghosts do not rest quietly, and to silence them, she must venture back to the London of her childhood, where a deadly confrontation with her past becomes the key to her future.

The Tea Rose spans a decade and two continents. It is first and foremost a love story, but don’t let that fool you. As they say, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” Joe and Fiona have been best friends all their lives, having grown up on the same street. They’ve been in love from the time they had such thoughts, and they both have huge ambitions to run a shop and have all the money they could ever need.

This is a story of poverty, of unions, of economics, of business. Fiona’s family with three strong men to earn money in their various jobs can barely get by. They aren’t able to save any money. Fiona works too, but women make a pittance compared to men, even though they spend just as much time at work. The employers refuse to pay more than a few pennies to their workers. Everyone has an air of desperation about them, except for the few folks who have all the money because they’ve squeezed the poor folks dry.

This is a horror story. In case East London doesn’t sound terrifying enough, you will not be disappointed. Jack the Ripper’s there too. And the cops can’t find anything to figure out who he is or how to stop him. At least, he’s only killing prostitutes, but who knows when that will change. Besides, how comforting is that when everyone you know is just a missed day of work or two away from that level of desperation?

This is a story of tragedy. Donnelly will get you excited and hopeful, and then stomp on your heart, light it on fire and then drown it. Even in the depths of despair when it seems the characters (and thus you, bound up in their fate) will never make it, she manages to kindle inspiration and hope. Completely beautiful.

The spark that makes all the parts of this novel come together lies in the characters, particularly Fiona. These are people who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Nothing can prevent Fiona from becoming a success; she will overcome any hardship thrown at her. She is undoubtedly one of the strongest heroines in literature. I may not always agree with her choices, as she is much more forgiving than I could ever be, but I always admire her spunk and intelligence and drive.

Donnelly made me cry. She made me angry, frustrated, terrified. She made me smile and left me feeling somewhat hopeful. You have to love a book that can run you through the gamut of human of emotions. This book is amazingly well-written and complex. This is historical fiction at its finest.

2 responses to “Review: The Tea Rose”

  1. Steena says:

    So, I’m currently on chapter 19 of this book, not even a third of the way through, and I’m realizing it is absolutely the worst book to read just before bed. I don’t want to use any spoilers but I was mad at my husband last night because of Joe. Obviously, my husband has done nothing wrong and did nothing to deserve my wrath, other than being male. That was enough. GrumbleGrrRassafrassin’Grumble.

  2. Christina says:

    It’s so good, but that definitely made me so angry. I bet hubby was not pleased, haha. The book’s worth it, but I just want to punch that little blonde hussy in the face, and Joe too.

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