Book Review and Blog Tour: The Winter Garden by Alexandra Bell

Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.

You are invited to enter an unusual competition.

I am looking for the most magical, spectacular, remarkable pleasure garden this world has to offer.

On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.

Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.

Now all she has to do is win.

I saw this book as part of the Del Rey showcase earlier this year and knew that I wanted to read it then. I was thrilled to be invited to take part in the blog tour for it and received a beautiful proof copy – the finished book will be truly stunning.

I was drawn in by the blurb and the magical garden so was expecting to be surrounded by magical plants and animals. There was certainly a lot of that in the book, from the Tiger made of Stars to the Frogs that let you feel what another truly thinks of you and Orchids that can only me planted by someone mourning and magical plums with so much else in between a trip through the magical flora and fauna of this book was simply that – magical.

Around our magical natural world though there was a much much darker edge to this story that I’ll be honest I wasn’t full expecting. I’m not sure why, there are certainly hints of it in the blurb but I found myself a little caught off guard by it.

I found both Beatrice and Rosa fascinating and amazingly strong, independent women at a time where that level of independence was not afforded to women (the story is set in the 1800’s). Beatrice with her stutter that already placed her at the edge of society a little and Rosa – the brash American trying to fit in to British upper class society, desperate to marry a Duke for the social standing without fully understanding what it would mean and the effects it would have on her freedoms. Where Beatrice poured her passions in to the natural world, Rosa’s were focussed on making clockwork creations so extraordinary they seemed to live and develop their own personalities over time. This did remind me heavily of Mori and his clockwork Octopus Katsu in Natasha Pulleys ‘ The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’ although the two character are very different.

Ultimately both Rosa and Beatrice were not happy women, effected hugely by the choices they had taken in life and unable to see a way they could move on and live the lives they would have preferred, so when they are both invited to enter a competition to create a magical garden for the opportunity to win a Wish that could change everything both women seize the opportunity whole heartedly – even at the expense of their own friendship.

A book about love, loss and how we carry our choices with us this book was both magical and sad all at once. An enjoyable read while darker than I anticipated.

With thanks to Del Rey for an advance copy in exchange for honest review.

The Winter Garden is available now.

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