The Blue Rose…
About the Book:
Moving between Imperial China and France during the ‘Terror’ of the French Revolution and inspired by the true story of the quest for a blood-red rose.
Viviane de Faitaud has grown up alone at the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, for her father, the Marquis de Ravoisier, lives at the court of Louis XVI in Versailles. After a hailstorm destroys the chateau’s orchards, gardens and fields an ambitious young Welshman, David Stronach, accepts the commission to plan the chateau’s new gardens in the hope of making his name as a landscape designer.
David and Viviane fall in love, but it is an impossible romance. Her father has betrothed her to a rich duke who she is forced to marry and David is hunted from the property. Viviane goes to court and becomes a maid-in-waiting to Marie-Antoinette and a member of the extended royal family. Angry and embittered, David sails away from England with Lord Macartney, the British ambassador, who hopes to open up trade with Imperial China.
In Canton, David hears the story of ‘The Blue Rose’, a Chinese fable of impossible love, and discovers the blood-red rose growing in the wintry garden. He realises that he is still in love with Viviane and must find her.
‘There are no true red roses,’ he answered. ‘Not in Europe anyway. I have heard rumours of a ruby-red rose in China, but all attempts to bring one back have failed. Sir Joseph Banks has invested a fortune in trying! But the journey is too long, and there are too many pitfalls for such a delicate flower.’
‘But all the medieval romances talk of red roses,’ she argued.
‘That was only because they did not have a word for “pink”,’ he said with a wry grin. ‘Saying “pink” to describe a colour only began less than a hundred years ago. At first it meant flowers in the Dianthus genus, like carnations or sweet Williams or the common pink, which all have frilled or serrated petals, as if they have been cut with pinking shears. Gradually the word came to mean the colour as well as the flower.’
I had no idea that red roses originated in China! And this is not the only thing I learned while reading Kate Forsyth’s magnificent new release, The Blue Rose. Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, this is a tale of history: the collapse of an old world society, revolution and violence, danger and love, discovery and innovation. It’s a masterpiece, as is everything Kate writes, an amazing novel, the very best that historical fiction can be with that perfect balance of true history with imaginative flair.
‘A gardener with the tongue of a poet,’ the marquis said. ‘How disconcerting. It is like hearing a toad sing like a nightingale. Very well. I thank you for your service and dismiss you forthwith. I am sure you understand I cannot pay you or give you a recommendation, not having yet seen anything but a few dead sticks.’
‘As Clothilde rattled on, Viviane stared at her in consternation. It seemed a dreadful thing that her stepmother thought that gambling debts owed to a rich nobleman must be repaid, while money owed to poor, hard-working tradesmen was to be left outstanding.’
When you consider the characters within this novel, those that populated the ‘ruling class’, to me it now seems as no surprise that the French Revolution eventuated. These people were awful, so entitled and rude, unappreciative of their servant’s labours, scathing of anyone lower than them, simpering to those who were higher. Kate’s characters were realistic and wholly three dimensional, recreating the era of such far flung history to perfection. And as is her way, the narrative is sprinkled with history, yet with such subtlety that you don’t even realise that you are learning so much as well as being entertained. Kate is such a skilled writer too, because even with something like this, where there were absolutely appalling injustices, she is still able to generate empathy within her readers for both sides of the story. Nothing is ever cut and dry in a Kate Forsyth novel, no character without a kernel of redemption, even if it is at the eleventh hour. This is my favourite novel by Kate since Bitter Greens. I love all of her work, but The Blue Rose is reminiscent of Bitter Greens in its emotional scope, cast of characters, and level of historical detail. It was lucky I picked this up the night before a public holiday because I could not stop reading – going to work would have been a wrench!
‘Louis could no more help being born a king than she could help being a marquis’s daughter or Pierrick the illegitimate son of a peasant. She found herself torn between her sympathy for the royal family and her affinity with the ideals of the revolutionaries.’
‘I believe all men and women are born free and equal in rights…and that liberty consists in the freedom to do as I wish as long as my actions injure no-one else.’
As well as examining the French Revolution, Kate takes a look at the early British expedition into China, aimed at collecting tea samples, as well as other botany exclusives that Britain had yet to acquire. Botany, within an historical framework, is an area of interest to me, so I found myself particularly drawn to these sections. It’s fascinating, the things we take for granted as always being there, like red roses, and tea, yet there was a time when these plants were exclusive to other countries, unknown to the rest of the world. Elusive and almost mythical.
‘It was also hoped the British might be able to discover the secrets of growing tea, so that they could break the Chinese monopoly. David had been given strict instructions by Sir Joseph Banks, his patron at the Kew Botanical Garden, to surreptitiously gather as many tea seedlings as he could, so they could be transplanted into British-owned land in India. It was a dangerous mission, for the penalty for smuggling tea plants out of China was death by beheading.’
Viviane and David, the main characters within The Blue Rose, were just beautiful. I loved them both and I believed in their love story, became invested in their fate. As is the way with all grand love stories, there is pain, anguish, misunderstanding, and loss. This is a magnificent journey, this story, and for all of us who follow Kate’s writing on social media, it has definitely been well worth the wait. This is one to savour and linger over, to get lost wandering within its pages. With such a rich historical background and such lyrical prose, The Blue Rose is an unforgettable novel that will leave you pining for more once you’ve read the last page. Bravo Kate Forsyth, you’ve done it again!
‘He had thought her weak-willed. Why would she not run away with me? Does she not love me enough to leave behind her chateau and her fine silks? He had not thought of how a songbird, confined all its life in a tiny cage, its wings clipped, might hesitate at a latch suddenly swinging open.’
Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of The Blue Rose for review.
About the Author:
Kate Forsyth wrote her first novel at the age of seven, and has since sold more than a million copies around the world. Her books include Bitter Greens, a retelling of Rapunzel which won the 2015 American Library Association Award for Best Historical Fiction; The Wild Girl, the story of the forbidden romance behind the Grimm Brothers’ famous fairy tales, which was named the Most Memorable Love Story of 2013; The Beast’s Garden, a retelling of ‘The Singing, Springing Lark’ set in the underground resistance to Hitler in Nazi Germany; and Beauty in Thorns, a reimagining of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ set amongst the passions and tragedies of the Pre-Raphaelite circle of artists and poets. Recently voted one of Australia’s Favourite 15 Novelists, Kate Forsyth has been called ‘one of the finest writers of this generation’. She has a BA in literature, a MA in creative writing and a doctorate in fairy tale studies, and is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers. Read more about her at www.kateforsyth.com.au
The Blue Rose
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Released on 16th July 2019