Friday, April 26, 2013

Book Review: The Fever Tree

The Fever TreeAuthor: Jennifer McVeigh
Publication Date: April 4, 2013
Publisher: Amy Eihorn Books/Putnam

Having drawn comparisons to Gone with the Wind and Out of Africa, The Fever Tree is a page-turner of the very first order.

In London she was caged by society.
In South Africa, she is dangerously free.

Frances Irvine, left destitute in the wake of her father’s sudden death, has been forced to abandon her life of wealth and privilege in London and immigrate to the Southern Cape of Africa. 1880 South Africa is a country torn apart by greed. In this remote and inhospitable land she becomes entangled with two very different men—one driven by ambition, the other by his ideals. Only when the rumor of a smallpox epidemic takes her into the dark heart of the diamond mines does she see her path to happiness.   But this is a ruthless world of avarice and exploitation, where the spoils of the rich come at a terrible human cost and powerful men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Removed from civilization and disillusioned by her isolation, Frances must choose between passion and integrity, a decision that has devastating consequences.   The Fever Tree is a compelling portrait of colonial South Africa, its raw beauty and deprivation alive in equal measure. But above all it is a love story about how—just when we need it most—fear can blind us to the truth. 

“It’s not an easy journey to make, to a new continent, by yourself.” He leant a hand on the wall above her. She could feel the heat rising from his body. He blocked out the light from the stairwell, and they stood together in near-darkness. “I remember feeling very alone when I first went to Africa.”

“It may be romantic, but it is also absurd. How can you run a country without central government?”

William stood very close to Frances and, without pausing for thought and in a low voice, said, “Soft, suspicious, serious, stern, supple, secret.” She smiled at him and thought, if I marry him, I will never ask for another thing.

Two weeks later, Frances was lying on her back by the riverbank, knees making a tent of her skirts, with her head resting on one bent arm. It was cooler now as winter drew on, and today was no hotter than a cloudless spring afternoon at home. A slight breeze stirred the dappled shade of the mimosa bushes, and through the branches she could see the dark shape of a bird of prey circling.

This is the epitome of what good historical fiction should be. Frances Irvine, once a wealthy young girl, suddenly ends up a poor orphan, alone and without options. Her only way out of a life of servitude is to except a marriage proposal that lacks luster for her. Dr. Matthews has asked Frances Irvine’s uncle for her hand, and she is none too excited at first. She then realizes, with his upcoming journey to Africa, that this may be her only option and the only way she will be properly provided for. Not long after accepting his proposal, Frances embarks on a journey to a less civilized land than she is used to with a broken heart and a hope for fulfilled dreams.

Frances is truly and beautifully flawed character. The best characters have the strongest flaws, or so I believe. The tragedy that is unfolding all around Frances and within her life makes it easier to love her as a character. The beauty of Frances is evident as you read and watch her grow and break through the negativity in her life. I also enjoyed watching her blend into a community and country far different from her own. She transforms from a high society, spoiled London girl into a young lady who is forced to make decisions based on what is best for her survival, which she often does poorly. She is highly flawed, and I do not expect everyone to love her. I had to learn to accept her and the spoiled childhood that she had, and allow her new life to inspire me, especially after all she goes through in Africa.

The best part of this novel was the unique and highly realistic portrayal of life in Africa and in and around the diamond mines in the 1880’s. Parts of this book were raw and based on actual events, and things that still take place in third world countries today. The disease, famine, and utter filth that Frances is dropped in are enough to keep any reader hooked to this plot. Frances is swept away to another country with no idea how to survive, much less run a household. This book is not only emotional and real, but most of all it is inspirational and deserves to be on the shelf of anyone with an appreciation for historical fiction.

***Thank you to the publishers at Putnam Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review***

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