All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Lavender Keeper – Fiona McIntosh

on April 14, 2012

The Lavender Keeper
Fiona McIntosh
Penguin AU
2012, 461p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Luc Bonet is a lavender farmer. Although he’s always known he was adopted, he was raised as an integral part of his adopted family and has the lavender growing in his blood. He automatically knows when it’s time to harvest and he plans to take over from his father and take the farming to the next level. But the Bonets are Jews and this is World War II in France. It’s not a good time to be a Jew and the Germans are everywhere in the country, rounding up the Jewish population and taking them to camps.

Luc’s adoption saves his life. He is of German extraction and looks it – assuming his birth name after his family are taken, Luc goes underground, becoming a member of the French Resistance. They work not to confront the German’s directly, but to make life difficult for them, blowing up bridges, railway lines, signals, anything that may inconvenience the intruding force or slow them down. This is his purpose now, to rid his country of the Germans and then he can take revenge for the loss of his family.

Lisette lives in Britain but she’s of French and German heritage. Her affinity for both languages is absolutely flawless and she is soon hunted as an intelligence officer for the British. Her job is to get close to a high-ranking German officer who has been shuffled to a desk job due to his lack of support for the Fuhrer’s policies. It’s believed he will be a perfect target given his lack of satisfaction with those in charge in Germany and Lisette is considered the perfect candidate to get close to him and bring down the Reich from the inside. She goes through rigorous training and is then parachuted into France to begin her mission. Members of the French Resistance assist in getting her around the country to where she needs to be – and one of those members is Luc Bonet.

Both Luc and Lisette have their missions but they hadn’t counted on encountering each other and the connection that develops between them. Their time together is all-too brief and fraught with emotion before they go their separate ways. Lisette has her mission and she is determined that she will succeed at it, made all the more easier when she discovers the German officer is charismatic and intelligent with views far outside the power-mad German regime. But she is still unable to forget Luc and the brief time they shared together

I really enjoyed parts of this novel, most notably the characterisation. Luc is a complex character, struggling with his heritage and acceptance of it and himself. Born and raised as French, although also fluent in German, he has no idea that he actually is German until the height of German occupation when his looks and knowledge of language and German heritage save his life. Reverting back to his birth name allows him to escape being rounded up as a Jew and he goes deep underground into the French Resistance. He carries a lot of hatred around inside of him and also a lot of guilt that his whole family were taken, were victims of war and prejudiced but by accident of birth he was able to survive.

Lisette has no family left either, having lost her parents in a car accident some years ago. Her affinity for languages is remarkable and she speaks three with no discernible accent. She is flattered to be chosen as an agent and tasked with something important and it seems that she’s quite aware that she may have to do certain things in order to complete her mission. The fact that she can do these things did disconnect me from her slightly because I found it hard to put myself in her shoes or understand her position because I’m not sure I could’ve done what she did. But I’d make a terrible spy and by all reports, Lisette was rather a good one! But at times it was very hard to relate to her because of her actions and the fact that she could swing between two men (often from one day to the next) deceiving both. I didn’t always like her as such, but I did find her probably the most interesting.

I’m not a big fan of love triangles usually and this is particularly true to YA fiction where it’s quite common. I haven’t come across too many in adult fiction in recent times. This book does involve a love triangle but the way in which it is written is more palatable to me as a reader (despite my issues with Lisette above) because both of the male characters are written in believable and sympathetic ways. Whilst there is a clear outcome that you can see, because this book is the story of Luc and Lisette, there’s no designated ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ character making up the third participant. In fact I found the German officer very likable and perhaps felt sorry for him for the way in which he was used. I would’ve liked a little more focus on him to further flesh him out but I found him interesting – a progressive man in a very restrictive regime where individualism usually resulted in meeting a firing squad. I very much enjoyed the role he played in the book, even though I knew his end was most likely not going to be happy!

I’ve mentioned before that my historical knowledge is relatively appalling. I didn’t take history in school and our only compulsive history was Australian history in very early high school. So this book certainly had things to teach me and gave me the groundwork for further research so I do appreciate that. But ultimately there were two things in this book that bothered me just a little bit. It’s very, very slow, particularly in the beginning when we are introduced to Luc and learn all about his background and the lavender. I know the lavender is important, it forms a very important part of Luc’s heritage and character. But that section of the book positively crawled for me and several times I almost gave up. Then I got to the section that detailed Lisette’s introduction to working undercover and I felt that it picked up. But at almost 500 pages (I was reading this on my Kindle, so I didn’t know how many pages it was, just that it was taking me an awfully long time to read it and I’m a fast reader) it drags in many places. There are times when it feels like the characters have endless conversations but nothing actually happens. It’s unevenly paced and too long. And I read that the author couldn’t finish the story and will be putting out a sequel, so clearly there was a lot of material. It does end quite abruptly.

Overall this story had its engrossing, entertaining parts and some interesting and multi-layered characters but there were times I found my attention wandering, even when I was on a plane and basically there was nothing else for my attention to wander to. Will I read the sequel? I think so…I do really want to know what becomes of Luc and Lisette now that her mission is complete, the occupation in France is coming to an end/is at an end. Despite their attraction they are not together for a large portion of this book so I would like to witness them as a proper couple, making a life together.


Book #61 of 2012

Fiona McIntosh was born overseas but has called Australia home for some time now. I’m counting this towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s the 17th novel completed so far!

7 responses to “The Lavender Keeper – Fiona McIntosh

  1. Marg says:

    As we have discussed before, this does sound like my kind of read, and now that you have said that there is a sequel that is even more true!

    • I’ll be interested in your thoughts on this one given it’s more your thing than mine! I’d like to see if you’re bothered by the same things I was or if you’re better able to sink into the story. I will read Luc’s Promise, given that I’ve read this one and it’s rather unfinished. I hate that!

  2. Shannon (Giraffe Days) says:

    Is this the same Fiona McIntosh who writes fantasy? It must be I’m sure. Her first book was awful but Odelisque was much better. I’m sure she’s improved a lot as a writer. What genre is this, romance? It has one of those covers that I’ve always felt dismissive about, that people sneeringly call “women’s fiction” like it’s not worth being taken seriously or something. (Like with chick-lit, I find I’m susceptible to general media and social prejudices around genres, something I’m trying to cure myself of!)

    • Yes, it’s the same writer. I’ve never read any of her fantasy novels so this was my first book by her. I’d class it as historical fiction/romance. It’s mostly about the war and the German occupation and Lisette’s mission, the romance is kind of an accompanying element but the entire book doesn’t revolve around it. Actually they spend relatively little time “together” in the book.

  3. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    I enjoyed this much more than I thought I would Bree given I am not suually a fan of books set in wartime. I’ll be reading the sequel for sure.

  4. […] Fiona – Lavender Keeper (Penguin) Tarran @ Collins Booksellers, Bree 1girl2manybooks, Book’d […]

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