The Wild Rose is the third book in Jennifer Donnelly's Rose trilogy, and while it can be read independently of the other two, it will be best appreciated if the reader has read the other two novels in the series, The Tea Rose and The Winter Rose, first. As these two books are among my absolute favourite books of all time, I advise everyone to run out and read them, then come back and read this review.
On the eve of the First World War, Seamus "Seamie" Finnegan is a famous polar explorer, and the toast of the Royal Geographical Society. He's been on expeditions with Shackleton and Amundsen, and his sister Fiona wonders when he will finally settle down. Yet Seamie can't seem to forget the woman he loved, and lost eight years earlier, when they attempted to climb Kilimanjaro together. Willa Alden, little sister to his best friend, nearly died, and ended up losing one leg just below the knee. She disappeared shortly after, and he believes she's never forgiven him for having her leg amputated. When he meets the charming and kind minister's daughter, Jennie Wilcott, who attends suffragette's marches with his sister, Seamie convinces himself that he loves her, and that she's the right person to finally make him forget Willa.
Willa is numbing the her physical and emotional pain with morphine in a little village at the foot of Mount Everest, dreaming of climbing it, and taking spectacular photographs of the landscape that she sends back to the RGS. She supports herself by guiding European explorers in the area, and tries to forget her old life as best she can. When she finally gets a pile of letters letting her know her father is dying, she has no choice but to return to England, and facing the family and the man she left.
The Wild Rose concludes the trilogy about the Finnegan siblings, begun in The Tea Rose. As well as the story of Seamus and Willa, the book features Seamie's older siblings Fiona and Sid, and their families, and chronicles their lives in the period just before, during and after the First World War. The main story line concerns Willa, Seamie and the German playboy and industrialist Max von Brandt, who also loves Willa. Seamie becomes a captain in the Navy, and Willa travels through Egypt and North Africa with Tom Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.
To say that this book was eagerly anticipated by me would be an understatement. I absolutely adored the two previous novels in the series, and waited for years for this concluding volume to be released. The two previous books, especially The Winter Rose, engrossed me so much I would forego food and sleep to get through them, I loved the story and the characters so much. The Wild Rose was not quite so gripping, but it was still a very comforting read, and Donnelly is a wonderful writer. While I found Seamie's story the least exciting of the three Finnegan siblings, it was very nice to be able to see how the lives of Fiona and Sid and their families had progressed, and I'm glad the story was concluded in a satisfying manner. Like the previous novels, the book depicts life in working class London at the turn of the century excellently, and Donnelly clearly does excellent research, with her strong, capable heroines travelling to a number of exotic locations and living adventurous and interesting lives.