This debut novel from Jennifer McVeigh will have fans of Jane Austen's unlikely love stories and independent women enthralled from the start. Only unlike Austen, McVeigh transports her readers around the globe, following her characters as they travel from the stiff restrictions of 19th century London to the wild freedom of the South African veldt and the rampant corruption of its diamond mines. The Fever Tree, at its core a classic romance, tells the story of a young woman who sees the world through the blinkered eyes of 19th century England. Her travels however, will teach her the cowardice of corruption, the importance of ideals and the difference between lust and love.
Frances Irvine, left alone after her father's death and family's abandonment, is forced to embark upon the long and arduous sea journey to South Africa to marry a distant cousin she severely dislikes. However, a chance meeting, followed by an auspicious coincidence or two, leaves her lusting after the dashing but deceitful William Westbrook, who woos her into a false sense of security on board the Cape-bound ship. On arrival at the Cape however, reality crashes down around her and she is left with little choice but to set off into the veldt to find the man she is to marry. Through twists and turns, she is thrown firstly into the depths of the South African veldt and then into the squalor of the mining town of Kimberley. Though she fails time and time again to accept her new life, she will eventually learn to call this small corner of the earth home.
Based in part on the 19th century diary of a young doctor in South Africa, the book gives an extremely interesting and accurate insight into the lives of those living under the oppression of the diamond trade. The level of greed and slavery is at times shocking, but nevertheless necessary if we are to gain a true insight into what life was like for the slaves forced to dig for nothing. McVeigh reportedly conducted intense research before beginning her novel, giving the writing an authentic and precise feel. Her descriptions are so detailed that it is hard to believe you haven't been there yourself, let alone believe that the author wasn't witnessing it all first hand. Overall, a great read and a real eye-opener into the lives of women with no power to control their own lives, men driven mad by diamonds and the freedom that actually comes from discovering the world in nothing but the clothes you stand up in.
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