The Botanist’s Daughter. A Book Review by Kayte Nunn is a fascinating tale of discovery, desire, and deception with two parallel narratives separated by centuries. The book transports us in time to Victorian England where headstrong Elizabeth goes on a quest for a dangerously rare, yet miraculous plant. In present-day Australia, Anna sets out on a journey to Cornwall in England where she discovers a hidden truth Both protagonists have a strong connection. Elizabeth, an artist with a gift for illustrating plants, and Anna a horticulturist.
Anna’s Story - A Buried Secret
The book begins with Anna’s story, set in Sydney's Paddington in 2017. A landscape gardener by profession, Anna inherits Granny Gus' weathered cottage and decides to renovate it. In the process, she discovers an intricately engraved box filled with botanical paintings, mysterious seeds, a faded old photograph and a notebook, Anna’s journey starts here. She sets off across the globe to Cornwall in England to discover the truth about this cache of treasures. When she sets foot in Kew Gardens in London, Anna seeks the help of a taxonomist, Dr Edwin Hammett-Jones (Ed), who also grew up in Cornwall. As she struggles with the demons of her past, Ed offers to help her in her search for the truth. Will Anna’s search reveal the full story behind the mysterious box? And can she forgive herself for her tragic past?
In Victorian England, Elizabeth suffers the loss of her father, John Trebithick, a botanist whose work took him to many exotic places. His dying wish was that Elizabeth continue his life’s mission to find a lifesaving, and possibly dangerous, plant in Chile, the ‘Devils Trumpet’ and he cautions her that his great rival, Mr Damien Chegwidden, will stop at nothing to find this rare plant. At a time when it was unknown for women to travel alone, Elizabeth ignores the advice of her sister and brother-in-law. Determined to continue her father’s quest, she sets off on a long and dangerous voyage across the ocean with her maid Daisy. Once in Chile, Elizabeth not only finds new love and but also the treacherous Mr Chegwidden.
Will she find the Devil’s Trumpet before Mr Chegwidden? Or does more danger await her?
In her first historical novel, the author, Kayte Nunn has created two inspiring characters. Both journeys are equally intriguing, and the story does not cease to entertain. The extensively researched nineteenth-century botany detail and scenic descriptions of Chile and Cornwall draw you in instantly while the gripping narrative highlights how women’s lives today have transformed since the Victorian era.
At the heart of the book lies a family mystery with a series of plot twists. Elizabeth’s life in Chile is somewhat different to what she had planned, and Anna’s grief isn’t elaborated on until near the end, however, when she gets the mysterious seeds to sprout after so many years, the story comes full circle.
Nunn has managed to not only connect the faded dots across centuries and continents, but to magnificently bring to life the thread that connects both families. Does this mysterious flower bring both Anna and Elizabeth together? The author keeps the reader guessing all the way through.
I would recommend this spell-binding novel, especially if you too are an avid gardener with a penchant for historical stories.
If you have read Kayte Nunn’s ‘The Botanists Daughter,’ what are your thoughts?
About the Author
Kayte Nunn is a freelance book, magazine and web editor and the former editor of Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine. Her first novel, Rose's Vintage, was published in 2016, and second, Angel's Share in 2017. She is also the mother of two young daughters.