REVIEW: The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

In brief: Anna chances across a mysterious metal box in her grandmother’s house, sending her across the world just as Elizabeth did in the late 1800s. How are their stories linked?

The good: I loved the mystery and the way the chapters from alternate time periods linked together.

The not-so-good: Sometimes I wanted more of Anna’s story, or Elizabeth’s, rather than alternate chapters.

Why I chose it: Sounded good! Thanks to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2018

Pages: 390

Publisher: Hachette

Setting: Australia, England, Chile

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The Botanist’s Daughter is a fascinating story across centuries, involving love, determination and of course, plants. It involves a dual timeline between Victorian England and present day Australia and two women who are searching for answers. It’s a pleasant story that is well worth reading if you enjoy Kate Morton’s novels or books that link the past and present.

Anna is living in modern day Australia, renovating her late grandmother’s house when a mysterious box is found in one of the walls. Inside there is a diary, a sketchbook of botanical drawings, a photo, some jewellery and seeds. Anna and her family are not too sure how it got there, or who it all belongs too. A keen gardener, Anna decides to germinate some of the seeds and show the sketchbook to some friends. This sets her off on a journey across the world to find out more about the artist and the house in the photo. Meanwhile, the reader has a pretty good idea of who the artist is. Elizabeth is a keen botanical artist who makes a promise to her father to go to Chile to retrieve a rare plant. The plant is exceptionally dangerous, and an equally dangerous man and rival is out to exploit its use. But life in Chile is somewhat different to what Elizabeth planned…

The story is told predominantly in alternating chapters from Elizabeth and Anna’s viewpoints. There are some nice little ties between the past and the present for the eagle eyed, but the shock twist late in the novel was surprising for me! I was also quite surprised at the change in Elizabeth’s life in Chile compared to what she had planned to do. It fits in nicely with the novel and her character though. Anna was a little harder to read for me as she hints at some sorrow in her past but it really isn’t elaborated on until near the end. She plays her cards a lot more closely to her chest than Elizabeth, who is much more open with her thoughts and feelings. I felt like Anna blossomed once she reached the UK and began to grow in confidence as she researched the mystery. Before then, she was a bit more closed off and difficult to like. I wished at times that there had been more than one chapter on each character though. Sometimes I was guilty of skipping ahead and finding out what had happened to the character before turning back to the previous chapter.

Kayte Nunn really does know how to tell a story and keep the reader entertained. I enjoyed the fish out of water plot for Elizabeth and Anna. I think the sense of belonging that Anna felt at the end of the novel was really emotional, particularly in comparison to Elizabeth. The details about plants kind of went over my head (I deal in roses and selected vegetables only) but is very well researched. An enjoyable read.

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