Welcome to my stop on the The Winter Garden blog tour! Huge thanks to Del Rey UK for giving me the opportunity to take part in this! I was provided a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: Del Rey UK
Publication Date: 02/09/2021
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Fantasy | Historical
CW: domestic abuse, child death
Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.GoodReads
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.
This was every bit as magical as I was hoping for with gothic elements intertwined, which starts as a glimpse of a shadow in the corner of your eye and grows into a suffocating darkness. Yet, the magic still manages to shine through.
We begin the novel when Beatrice is a child and after experiencing the trauma of losing her mother she receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. As much as it hurt to read, I did like the reaction Beatrice had to her dying mother as it felt so believable for a child character which I really appreciated and felt that it set up her character well. We see her as she grows into a young woman struggling to find her space in society because of her sex as well as her stammer. I thought it was great to see how she would try to be strong and have her independence as a woman but Bell shows how it isn’t as easy or simple as travelling alone.
As well as Beatrice we also have a second protagonist in Rosa, her closest friend who moved from America who has very different goals and dreams to Beatrice but they are still very similar in a lot of ways. Although Rosa is introduced as the second protagonist, she didn’t feel like a secondary protagonist in any way. I loved the contrast that she presented to Beatrice. Rosa was so sure of how she wanted to live her life however, it soon becomes apparent that she has prioritised status for happiness when she always thought that the two would be synonymous. It was through our time with Rosa that we got to see how truly dark this world can be, that for Victorian women the danger was not their ambitions or their independence (which we see through Beatrice) but their own husbands and expectations as a wife.
This sudden change in tone when Rosa confronts Eustace for the first time was incredibly jarring and brings the reader back to the stark reality of the Victorian times and out of the magical pursuit of the Winter Garden. I loved how the two were combined and balanced throughout the novel. There was a lot of casual magic and fantasy scattered throughout the novel with Beatrice travelling far and wide to auction houses to get a glimpse of the Winter Garden she visited as a child as well as Rosa’s fantastical clockwork creatures who could take on life of their own. Yet, none of this felt out of place in the dark and oppressive Victorian England setting, especially because some of the magic itself isn’t as harmless as what you first expect. This recurring theme of duality throughout the novel was fascinating to me and handled wonderfully by Bell and I know the phrase “life needs dark leaves in the wreath” will follow me for a long time to come.
Overall, I adored this novel with all it’s magic, mysteries and shocking twists that left me immensely satisfied and in awe by the end (which is also possibly one of my favourite endings I’ve read this year). Although it was the initial fantasy and wonder that drew me into this novel, at its heart it is a story of the struggle faced by Victorian women in society and the complex relationships between mother and daughter which was enchanting to read.