Title: The Botanist’s Daughter
Author: Kayte Nunn
Published: July 31st 2018
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary/Historical
Rating: 5 stars
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 . . .
The Botanist’s Daughter signals quite the turning point for the author of this fascinating historical fiction, crossed with dual narrative tale. It is Kayte Nunn’s first venture into the world of historical fiction. It gives me great pleasure to see Kayte Nunn, an author I have been a fan of since her debut novel, take flight and soar with a new genre. The Botanist’s Daughter is a victory piece for Nunn and it has secured a spot in my most treasured reads of 2018.
In this beautifully realised novel, two women of the same profession, the field of botany, are in a race to find the key to a powerful flower. These two women are separated by time. In Victorian England, Elizabeth is quite the trailblazer. She leads the charge, continuing in her late father’s endless search to source a precious plant that has the power to heal beyond words. It is a hazardous quest, which involves a lengthy voyage from Cornwall, to Chile. Elizabeth will stop at nothing to fulfil her father’s legacy, but it is a journey marked by much danger. Another pioneering botanist who appears over a century after Elizabeth is Anna, based in Sydney in the present day. When her grandmother passes away, Anna discovers a mysterious metal box among her belongings. Inside she finds a cache of items. These include a book of watercolour sketches, a photograph and a bag of seeds. For Anna this sets forth a pathway to self discovery and an unearthing of a century old tale.
The Botanist’s Daughter is quite the showpiece. It enthralled me from the opening, through to the final parting words. The Botanist’s Daughter is a book that ticked all the boxes for me and I was sad when I came to the close of this wonderful set piece. Kayte Nunn is an author I have followed and supported since her first novel came out in 2016. Since whispers of this novel first surfaced, I have been eagerly waiting its release and I’m so pleased to give this book my full recommendation.
It is always interesting to see where an idea for a book first germinates. In The Botanist’s Daughter’s case, the author has a personal interest in botany and it truly does reflect through the passionate storytelling of Kayte Nunn. An afternoon spent in a favourite locale, Sydney’s botanical gardens and the connection the author made to a sundial, spurned on this story idea. A visit followed to Kew Gardens and The Botanist’s Daughter was born. It is a magnificent tale at that!
The Botanist’s Daughter is structured in the form of dual time frame narrative, weaving into and out of chapters situated in 1800’s Cornwall and Chile, along with Sydney in the year 2017. There is a rich sense of place that pervades The Botanist’s Daughter. I particularly enjoyed the Chile based scenes, as this is a locale I have not read about before. The transitions of time and place were handled with poise. I found that I was equally enamoured by the past and the present day storylines. Time slip narratives are often hard to pull off, but Kayte Nunn doesn’t shy away from the challenge of a dual narrative approach. What culminates is an engaging story, rooted firmly in both the past and the present, with illuminating connections.
Kayte Nunn’s leading protagonists, Elizabeth in the past and Anna in the present, are both intriguing. Nunn outlines both these women extremely well and I found I enjoyed each woman’s personal story equally. It is hard to achieve this balance in dual time frame narrative, but Nunn achieves success in this area of her new novel. Elizabeth is a determined, single-minded and fearless woman. She definitely is ahead of her time. I enjoyed following Elizabeth’s incredible journey to fulfil her late father’s great quest. This was one of many reasons why I remained glued to the pages of this novel. Supporting Elizabeth is her loyal servant Daisy. I found Daisy endearing and the unsung heroine of the tale. Anna, the present day protagonist, was a layered character. I enjoyed the process of unpacking Anna’s personal issues.
A spellbinding and timeless family mystery awaits the reader when they choose to take a journey with the cast of The Botanist’s Daughter. This aspect of the novel was perfectly paced. The placement of the metal box of treasures discovered by Anna in the present day was an excellent catalyst to commence the intrigue side of this novel. For me, this was my favourite part of the novel. The focus on botany and the search for the miraculous plant that holds the key to potentially saving the lives of many was completely enlightening. Nunn deserves full praise for her research efforts in this area. When the reader reaches the conclusion of The Botanist’s Daughter, a gentle line of new love and hope closes off this meaningful journey.
Whilst I am trying to tread a careful line in gushing too much over this book, I must also add that The Botanist’s Daughter is a book that is beautiful both on the outside and on the inside. The breathtaking cover design which sprawls to the inside cover of this book and it is just so exquisite, I adored the birds and flowers. I must recommend you purchase a hard copy of this book if you have a weakness for gorgeous covers!
It is with no hesitation at all that I heartily recommend this novel to all. If you take great delight in well presented historical fiction, The Botanist’s Daughter is yours for the taking!
The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn was published on 31st July 2018 by Hachette Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Botanist’s Daughter, Kayte Nunn, visit here.
*I wish to thank Hachette Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Botanist’s Daughter, is book #87 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge