Title: The Naturalist’s Daughter
Author: Tea Cooper
Published: December 18th 2017
Publisher: Harlequin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Australian, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
1808 Agnes Banks, NSW
Rose Winton wants nothing more than to work with her father, eminent naturalist Charles Winton, on his groundbreaking study of the platypus. Not only does she love him with all her heart, but the discoveries they have made could turn the scientific world on its head. When Charles is unable to make the long sea journey to present his findings to the prestigious Royal Society in England, Rosie must venture forth in his stead. What she discovers there will change the lives of future generations.
1908 Sydney, NSW
Tamsin Alleyn has been given a mission: travel to the Hunter Valley and retrieve an old sketchbook of debatable value, gifted to the Public Library by a recluse. But when she gets there, she finds there is more to the book than meets the eye, and more than one interested party. Shaw Everdene, a young antiquarian bookseller and lawyer seems to have his own agenda when it comes to the book – and Tamsin. In an attempt to discover the book’s true provenance Tamsin decides to work with him.
The deeper they delve, the more intricate the mystery becomes. As the lives of two women a century apart converge, discoveries rise up from the past and reach into the future, with irrevocable consequences…
Tea Cooper is a favourite and much treasured author of mine. Cooper’s ability to bring little known aspects of Australian history to life through her novels is an impressive feat. In her latest Australian historical fiction treat, Cooper highlights the discovery and controversial classification of a quintessential Australian mammal, the platypus, in The Naturalist’s Daughter.
Tea Cooper’s latest, The Naturalist’s Daughter, begins in the era of the early 1800’s, in New South Wales. Rose Winton is her father Charles’ apprentice. Charles is a naturalist, specifically working on a pioneering study of the platypus. At the time, an egg laying creature that feeds milk to its young was unheard of. The platypus was classed as a scientific conundrum. When Charles falls ill, it is up to Rose to step up her duties and cross the other side of the world, to London. In London, Rose must present her father’s work to the Royal Society, revealing revolutionary scientific information on the platypus. However, it will take Rose all the strength she can summon to honour her father’s prestigious work. The impact of the journey Rose takes has a lasting impact on future generations. Nearly 100 years later, public library worker Tamsin Alleyn makes the journey to the Hunter Valley to collect a precious sketchbook, provided by an unknown figure to the Mitchell Library. When Tamsin arrives, the old sketchbook delivers much more than expected. It has also caught the eye of an antiquarian bookseller, by the name of Shaw Everdene. Although suspicious of Shaw’s agenda, Tamsin decides to work with him to uncover the true scientific value of this sketchbook. The Naturalist’s Daughter merges the personal histories of two very colourful female figures and in this process, paints a fascinating portrait of a much loved Australian creature, the platypus.
What an intriguing main topic for a narrative and a highly original slice of Australian history writer Tea Cooper has selected to cover in her latest novel, The Naturalist’s Daughter. I greatly admire the skill, thought and care that goes into the production of Cooper’s Australian historical fiction novels. The Naturalist’s Daughter is another fine example of Cooper’s talent. From the beginning to the end of the novel, I was completely enthralled by the rich and textured history I was presented with by Tea Cooper.
The central topic of the novel, the platypus, is utterly enthralling and never before have I read such an informative piece of literature on this Australian creature. The beauty of this novel is that all the interesting facts, observations and key features about the platypus are combined within an engaging narrative. By the time The Naturalist’s Daughter came to a close, not only did I feel better educated about the platypus, I couldn’t wait to make plans to view a platypus with the new set of information I gleaned from Tea Cooper.
The Naturalist’s Daughter isn’t just about the platypus, it also follows the story of two very determined women, ahead of their time, performing acts that were outside the box for women of their respective eras. Cooper highlights the difficulty women of both her 1800 and 1900 based narratives faced, by existing in a male dominated world, especially in the area of scientific knowledge and discovery. I greatly admired Rose’s decision to firstly travel to England without her father. Secondly, I thought Rose was extremely fearless in her attempts to present her father’s findings to the Royal Society, especially in her pursuit of winning figurehead Joseph Banks over. The controversy and fierce debate of awarding classification of the platypus was covered very well by Cooper. I also loved Rose’s interactions back home with her father, she clearly had plenty to contribute to the field of research into the platypus. The other protagonist of the novel, in the 1908 narrative, Tamsin Alleyn, is just as powerful in her own right. Despite the fact that these two strong and female protagonists lived 100 years part, Cooper ties their stories together in a harmonious way. Equally interesting are the male characters that flesh out the pages of this story. They are wonderfully complex, such as Rose’s father Charles in the earlier narrative and Shaw in the 1908 based storyline. All the characters featured in The Naturalist’s Daughter are portrayed with a sense of intimacy, which I appreciated very much.
Tea Cooper’s latest novel offers the reader a great combination of genres. Readers who make the wise choice and select The Naturalist’s Daughter to read can expect a touch of unusual natural history, romance and drama. The use of the sketchbook containing early illustrations of the platypus provided a beautiful air of mystery and intrigue to the novel. I will admit that this object completely drew me in to the unfolding story. I loved how Tea Cooper carefully connected this sketchbook to her leading characters, across the two different timelines.
The Naturalist’s Daughter is an outstanding, as well as ardent tribute to one of Australia’s icons from the natural world, the platypus. It is a smoothly written novel, with plenty of history, especially of Australia’s heritage and the scientific world, interspersed throughout an arresting narrative. Tea Cooper has outdone herself with her latest and greatest novel to date, The Naturalist’s Daughter.
The Naturalist’s Daughter by Tea Cooper was published on 18th December 2017 by Harlequin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Naturalist’s Daughter, Tea Cooper, visit here.
*I wish to thank the publisher, Harlequin Books Australia, for providing me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.