Nineteen-year-old Gwendolyn Hooper is newly married to a rich and charming widower, eager to join him on his tea plantation, determined to be the perfect wife and mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbours treacherous. And there are clues to the past – a dusty trunk of dresses, an overgrown gravestone in the grounds – that her husband refuses to discuss. Just as Gwen finds her feet, disaster strikes. She faces a terrible choice, hiding the truth from almost everyone, but a secret this big can’t stay buried forever . . .
I read this book in just six hours on a Friday night, almost definitely delirious from sickness. Somehow, when I’m sick, the very last thing I want to do is actually rest. My mind shoots off fireworks and does math problems; the best solution is to read a book until my head pounds and I can’t actually, you know, think. Anyways, that point aside, this book was such an adventure!
First off, it’s set in the 1900s in the point of view of a tea planter’s wife. Gwen is so different from other female characters I read about, generally timid and kind and just so unrebellious! I read Empire of Storms right before, and going from the fire-breathing queen Aelin Galathynius who can kill an entire army to sweet and docile Gwen was a shock to the system. Just as I was about to put the book down, I was suddenly tossed into a rollercoaster of character development.
It was beautiful, to say the least, the way that her character development was written. She suddenly became someone different, and it was not abrupt: instead, the book gently eased me into her journey. One key thing that stuck out to me was the fragility of happiness. She went from a young girl hopeful for a new marriage to a woman far older than her age who has to make decisions that will stick with her forever. She had to sacrifice so much for happiness, and even then, it was more for the happiness of others than for herself. Gwen was still kind, but she was so quickly hardened from experiences. Some books have huge experiences not change the character’s personality at all, which is unrealistic, but this one completely changed her, showing that it’s our experiences that make us who we are.
Moments in this book were so sad, with an air of helplessness from Gwen. She often sank into depression, her husband Laurence doing his best to make her happy again and her sister-in-law working to bring her down even more. It was such a struggle for her, being surrounded by one positive force in her life and another sick, negative one that was always trying to bring her down. The effect that other people can have on you was so well demonstrated.
For the other characters, I loved their detailed back stories. Laurence, her husband, is tormented by the memory of his first wife, and details of it is slowly fed to the reader. Verity, her sister-in-law is a strange, tormented soul that clings so tightly to Laurence and is the leech that pulls on their happiness and money. By the end, I did not really think of her as a bad person, more of a mentally ill, sad person that only needed help. In other books, I am often completely against the antagonist and will hate them to my last breath, but with this book, the human sides really shown through, as well as again the example that it is our experiences that shape us.
I loved this book, but was also frustrated at times. I loved the time period and how different it was, but also disliked that Gwen was so weak in the beginning and would not stand up for herself. I’m used to equal rights and feminism but this book gave me a good insight into what life was like back then. Not all of the women worked to have equal rights: most of them lived their lives. One thing that I did dislike, however, was that the book was very predictable until the last few chapters. I honestly could see everything that would happen and was sometimes confused that Gwen could not see it herself. Characters that are blind annoy me because I just want to scream in their faces and tell them to look around them! The end, though, completely took me by surprise and I admit that I cried, even though my heart has been hardened by all of the fictional character deaths I’ve experienced…
I would recommend this book to everyone. Even if you’re a fan of fantasy, you need to read it. It gave me so many valuable life lessons and showed exactly what life was like back then. I think it’s the type of book we all need to read, and now all I ask is that you pick it up yourself.
I recieved this book from Blogging For Books for this review. I value honestly and this did not impact my view of the book at all.