Very enjoyable book especially for those who love history as there is a great deal of historical detail. According to the New York Times Book Review, "This tale of forbidden love set against the turmoil of a country in chaos makes for both intelligent and satisfying reading" The "forbidden love" mentioned in this quote is a male/male love affair by the way so if you find that theme offensive you may not want this book. That love affair is actually a fairly small part of the plot of this book.
Interesting historical fiction, but not one of my favorite of Gregory's stories. It was well written, I just did not empathize with the protagonist, John Trandescant, until well into the story, which made it a little harder for me to get into. I did not understand his unquestioning views and acceptance of some things that seemed very unfair, but realized later that these traits that I found unlikeable were part of his character growth and story arc.
My difficulty relating to the character may have just been because I had certain expectations due to the other Gregory novels that I have read and loved. A big part of what drew me into her other books were the female protagonists and the struggles that women had to face in the time periods that her other books are set in.
This one begins in England in 1603, the year that Queen Elizabeth died and the Stuart era began. The main character is a gardener who works for a few different courtiers over the decades of his career, designing and planting great gardens.
He gets involved with traveling and bringing rare plants back to England, and being a collector of rarities becomes his trademark in the gardening world. This was interesting and a bit different, since I have never read a historical fiction novel that covered this ground before(I tend to get bored with the same old court intrigue and bitchy, rich people spending money and having affairs).
If you garden and know plants you will probably enjoy this book very much and if you don't, you may find yourself a bit bored with all of the plant talk, but it is still worth reading.
There is a sequel called Virgin Earth that I am interested in reading to see what happens next. It will follow the main character's son to Virginia and I think that I will enjoy that one more. I found the son a little easier to identify with and I empathized with him more.
I enjoyed this book enormously, but am ashamed to admit that I had completed both this book and its sequel before I realized that the main characters, John Tradescant the Elder and his son, (John the Younger)were true historical figures. They were the first botanists in England and England's most famous gardeners. A teriffic story of a man's unquestioning loyalty to his master and King. If you read this book, be sure to follow up with the sequel, Virgin Earth. Philippa Gregory never disappoints me.