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Review: The Wild Rose, Jennifer Donnelly

This book follows directly on from The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose. As a result, this review will have spoilers for both.

Though Seamie Finnegan and Willa Alden love each other, they were driven apart by an accident resulting in the loss of Willa’s leg. Now, unable to satisfy her greatest passion of climbing, Willa spends most of her time finding other ways to endanger herself and live on the edge. She spends her time photographing mountains in Tibet, following wars, and getting captured. Seamie, meanwhile, can’t forget Willa or cease worrying about her, no matter how hard he tries; even burying his sorrows in the pursuit of other women can’t seem to erase his memory of her.

Surrounding the couple are a cast familiar to anyone who has read any of the Rose trilogy – Fiona and Joe, who are getting older now, their brigade of children, India and Sid, and other more minor characters from the earlier books. It’s always nice to see familiar characters again; Seamie himself has been in all of the books, while Willa featured prominently in the last one. Part of the appeal of such a series is definitely getting stuck in with characters to care about.

Unfortunately, that was one of the flaws in this book for me; I couldn’t like the characters that Willa and Seamie became. Willa is driven to do truly ridiculous deeds simply to escape the fact that she’s lost her leg, to defy death just because she can – and because she doesn’t care if it takes her. Despite her seemingly courageous behavior, she complained. Often. Seamie, meanwhile, treats one character in particular very badly, and makes promises that he simply can’t keep. I couldn’t like characters that could act like this, no matter how strong their love is supposed to be.

As with all of the books, there are several other plots going on. We are deep in the midst of World War I for much of the book, with an associated German espionage plot taking up a lot of the book’s time. That had an unexpected ending, one which actually made me consider reading the book over again to see if I could pick up the pieces. Fiona and Joe’s children are growing up, with their oldest girl taking on a political mind of her own and one of their sons off to fight in the war. And India does what she does best, doctoring the soldiers who return even as she worries about the ones that she herself loves.

The book held my attention, though, and does deal with some more complicated issues. The effect of front line warfare on a person’s mind, for instance, is one that is surprisingly hard hitting towards the end of the book. Infidelity plagues several characters, as does blackmail and the difficult circumstances people find themselves in during wartime.

Personally, though, I felt like this particular installment suffered more from the same flaws as the first one, with characters that are simply too large for life and are difficult to believe in. Too many famous people in one family, too many lucky escapes; even the share of tragedy the book has doesn’t quite outweigh this for me. It’s a good read, but this series for me just doesn’t match Donnelly’s standalone works. Still, I’d recommend the entire trilogy to those who seek out well-written historical family sagas. The Wild Rose is a good read – just don’t expect it to be A Northern Light.

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review from Netgalley.

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