All The Books I Can Read

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Blog Tour Review: The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

on August 10, 2018

The Botanist’s Daughter 
Kayte Nunn
Hachette AUS
2018, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Discovery. Desire. Deception. A wondrously imagined tale of two female botanists, separated by more than a century, in a race to discover a life-saving flower . . .

In Victorian England, headstrong adventuress Elizabeth takes up her late father’s quest for a rare, miraculous plant. She faces a perilous sea voyage, unforeseen dangers and treachery that threatens her entire family.

In present-day Australia, Anna finds a mysterious metal box containing a sketchbook of dazzling watercolours, a photograph inscribed ‘Spring 1886’ and a small bag of seeds. It sets her on a path far from her safe, carefully ordered life, and on a journey that will force her to face her own demons.

In this spellbinding botanical odyssey of discovery, desire and deception, Kayte Nunn has so exquisitely researched nineteenth-century Cornwall and Chile you can almost smell the fragrance of the flowers, the touch of the flora on your fingertips . . .

I really love dual narrative historical and contemporary stories and this one was unputdownable from the start. Elizabeth, technically a ‘spinster’ in Victorian England, is begged by her ailing father to continue his work in botany and find a miracle plant with believed healing properties. He desperately wants it found before his rival and nemesis does, who will surely sell it to the highest bidder. Although a somewhat privileged and cosseted woman, Elizabeth undertakes a long voyage by sea to South America with just her maid Daisy. Once there, she must keep her identity and mission a secret so as not to attract the attention of her father’s rival, who it seems, will do anything to make the discovery before anyone else does.

I really enjoyed the historical aspect of this novel. It seems that in this time the study of botany and foreign plants was quite a thing and Elizabeth’s father undertakes many voyages to bring back and cultivate foreign species. He has no sons so rather than risk his rival discovering this secret, incredible plant first, he begs his younger daughter to do it for him after his death, sending her on an amazing adventure in a very different place to what she is used to. Elizabeth will find true courage and strength of character on her journey as she endures many different hardships but she will also find great love and happiness as well.

Elizabeth is not without her flaws and she’s secretive and impetuous and singleminded in her task. She certainly doesn’t make things easy for herself and her dangerous expedition places people in danger other than just herself. I liked her but at times I just wanted her to be honest about herself and her task and take people into her confidence and give herself I don’t know, some back up? A bit of assistance? She’s got guts though – to travel such a way with only a maid to a place she’s unfamiliar with and doesn’t know much about is amazing. I love that she was a botanical artist too and very talented at it.

Anna inherits a house from her grandmother in the present day and finds a mysterious box within the wall behind a bookcase that will send her on another incredible journey to discover the identity and truth of the person behind it. Anna is also incredibly interested in botany and has studied at university although perhaps hasn’t truly developed her career due to tragedy. A lot of the time, Anna feels like going through the motions of existing – she works, she goes to the gym every Saturday, she meets her sister and mother for dinner. She doesn’t actually really seem to embrace life and still seems very stuck on something terrible that happened. Finding the box gives Anna a purpose and it’s also a vehicle for her to overcome her fears and do something she should’ve done a long time ago.

This book definitely took me places I did not expect when I picked it up. I was surprised how dark it got during some parts, which added a whole new depth to the story. It’s told with obvious passion and I found myself really into the evocative descriptions of life in both Victorian England and South America. Kayte Nunn paints lush portrait of the landscape, the social life and the people – even the voyage from England is vividly rendered, with poor Elizabeth suffering nearly the whole way. This was the sort of story that you could just sink right into and not come up for air until you were finished. I found both timelines really fascinating and was invested in both Elizabeth and Anna. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know…..and the more I found out, the better the story became.

This is a truly beautiful story that meshes two very different timelines together admirably and takes the reader on a journey around the world from inner city Sydney to the beauty of Cornwall and the intriguing forests of Chile. Even though it focuses very much on botanical matters, you don’t have to have an interest in these to enjoy it and it weaves the information in perfectly. It’s definitely a must-read for all fans of historical fiction and I would happily recommend it to anyone.


Book #133 of 2018

5 responses to “Blog Tour Review: The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

  1. Yes! This is what I felt about Elizabeth too, exactly!

  2. Marg says:

    Have you read Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert? It sounds like the historical story shares some similarities to this book. I have added this one to my TBR

    • I haven’t, although I do own it! I was sent a copy years ago and never got around to actually reading it. But if you say it’s quite like this I might have to try and bump it up my pile because I really enjoyed this.

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