I have been dying to tell you about this book for so long since I read an early copy way back in March. I absolutely loved Sara Sheridan’s The Fair Botanists. Set in 19th century Edinburgh when the New Town is being built, the city is preparing for a Royal visit from King George IV, and botanists are getting excited about the imminent flowering of the Agave Americana. This plant is known as the century plant and flowers only once every few decades. It’s much sought after by many for varied reasons and many of the characters in this book have reason to want to get a hold of its valuable flowers and seeds.
Sara Sheridan is passionate about writing women back into history and commemorating their achievements. So it’s hardly surprising that she creates fantastic female characters in this book, from courtesan Belle Brodie who is passionate about the use of plants in perfumery (or perhaps I should say potions), to recently widowed botanical artist Elizabeth Rocheid relying on the kindness of her late husband’s relatives, to blind Mhairi MacDonald who works for an Edinburgh whisky distiller. Belle was my favourite and I admired her determination to live life on her own terms regardless of what anyone else thought. Despite being the great grand-daughter of a duke, her circumstances meant that her life was far from that of nobility and, particularly as a woman, her life choices were limited. I enjoyed the mix of fictional characters alongside many real and notable Edinburgh citizens of the time.
I absolutely loved the 19th Century Edinburgh setting which is brought vividly to life by Sara Sheridan’s vibrant descriptive writing. It’s an Edinburgh which is recognisable to me and yet a growing Edinburgh with so many landmarks not yet part of the cityscape. Princes Street Gardens are still being developed from the recently drained Nor Loch, the National Monument on Calton Hill is in the planning stage and the Botanic Garden is completing its move from its original site in Leith Walk to its current location at Inverleith. I was really interested to learn that Constitution Street in Leith was built as a route to town which would bypass Leith Kirkgate as it was considered too dirty and beyond cleaning!
In my opinion, The Fair Botanists is Sara Sheridan’s finest novel to date. It’s a book that’s clearly well researched and is so richly detailed. If you are a fan of historical fiction then don’t miss this one. It’s a beautifully written historical adventure, with feisty and memorable characters, secrets, a dash of romance, plenty drama and is such a satisfying read.
My thanks to the publishers Hodder and Stoughton for my review copy from Netgalley. The Fair Botanists will be published in hardback, ebook and audiobook on 5th August. It is available to pre-order from various retailers on the H&S website here: The Fair Botanists
From the back of the book
It’s the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is abuzz with rumours of King George IV’s impending visit. In botanical circles, however, a different kind of excitement has gripped the city. In the newly-installed Botanic Garden, the Agave Americana plant looks set to flower – an event that only occurs once every few decades.
When newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in Edinburgh to live with her late husband’s aunt Clementina, she’s determined to put her unhappy past in London behind her. As she settles into her new home, she becomes fascinated by the beautiful Botanic Garden which borders the grand house and offers her services as an artist to record the rare plant’s impending bloom. In this pursuit, she meets Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman with a passion for botany and the lucrative, dark art of perfume creation.
Belle is determined to keep both her real identity and the reason for her interest the Garden secret from her new friend. But as Elizabeth and Belle are about to discover, secrets don’t last long in this Enlightenment city . . .
And when they are revealed, they can carry the greatest of consequences.
About the author
Sara Sheridan is an Edinburgh-based writer of over 20 books including cosy crime noir mysteries set in 1950s Britain and historical novels based on the real-life stories of late Georgian and early Victorian explorers. She has also written non-fiction, as well as books for children. Sara has been named one of the Saltire Society’s 365 most influential Scottish women, past and present.