The tale of The Fever Tree begins in mid-century England, but soon transports the reader to the diamond mines of South Africa. Frances, our heroine, is a naive young woman, a hothouse flower living a life of privilege. After her father’s reversal of fortune and untimely death, she is left with few options – work as a virtual slave to a harridin aunt, or marry a man she does not love.
She makes her decision, and sets off across the ocean for the wilds of Africa. Aboard the ship, Frances settles in and begins to find herself. She finds others too, and temptation abounds as she meets William Westbrook and recognizes her true soul mate.
Arriving at her destination, Frances discovers that things are not quite as she had expected. Her new home is an isolated African outpost where she is inundated by dust and appalling insects. Out of her depth, and haunted by memories of a shipboard romance, Frances struggles to make the leap from her dreams to reality.
When a small pox epidemic breaks out in the area, Frances must deal with her fear and grief, as a beloved companion succumbs. Frances perseveres and is ultimately called upon to tap hidden reserves of strength as she combats the almost biblical trials that befall her.
While some might lose patience with Frances and her tendency to make bad decisions, I found her a sympathetic character. Too often we read of fiery, redheaded heroines who brazen their way through any difficulty. Frances, though a redhead, is not fiery, and while flawed, she is also very believable. Who hasn’t made an emotional or spur of the moment decision and lived to regret it.
There was one puzzling element to this book. The two evil influences, grasping, brutish and egotistical, were characterized as Jewish. This odd twist was not essential to the plot and could easily have been changed.
All in all, I enjoyed The Fever Tree, and give it an eight out of ten. I was fascinated by the vivid description of life in South Africa, the misery of the diamond mines, and the clash between cultures. The author has clearly researched her topic and setting. Though some of the basic elements sound familiar, the story is told with a sure hand, and the compelling narrative makes this book a quick and exciting read.
- Jennifer McVeigh discusses her inspiration for ‘The Fever Tree’ (thepenguinblog.typepad.com)