Title: The Winter Garden
Author: Alexandra Bell
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Publication Date: 2 Sept 2021
Trigger Warnings: Parental death. Death of a child. Non-consensual marital sex. Hints of rape. Violence (but not graphic).
Comment: I was gifted a copy of this downright gorgeous book by Del Rey and the author. With thanks to @penguinrandom @delreyuk I offer a review voluntarily and am in no way influenced by a fire-breathing clockwork dragon or trees that eat rabbits.
Buying links: https://amzn.to/3yLnSeY
Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.
You are invited to enter an unusual competition.
I am looking for the most magical, spectacular, remarkable pleasure garden this world has to offer.
On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.
Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.
Now all she has to do is win.
The Winter Garden only appears to those in most desperate need. Like 8-year-old Beatrice whose mother is dying. She escapes to the garden of wonders and has tea with the Spider Queen and dances with the fairies, but only for an hour.
After the garden vanishes, all she is left with is a few souvenirs to remind her it wasn’t all a dream.
Years later, Beatrice jilts her aristocratic fiancée and runs off to realise her dream of finding the garden. Her actions scandalize all but her best friend Rosa who has always dreamed of marrying a titled man.
But dreams are never what they seem.
When both are given the invitation to compete in a competition with the prize being one wish, all bets are off and the two friends will do whatever it takes to change their past and prevent the present.
If you take Caraval, add the Night Circus, mix in Suckerpunch and let Neil Gaiman direct it, you would get The Winter Garden.
What starts out as a charming tale of a sweet child unable to say goodbye to her dying mother and escaping into a wonderland takes a dark turn and ends up as a gothic horror story of nightmarish creatures and vengeance.
I loved it.
The Winter Garden was a feast for the imagination and I can’t count all of the amazing creations that litter the pages. I was captivated by the opalescent snails that write poems in their slime and Mourning Orchids that can only be planted by those grieving, clockwork ravens and trees that bite.
All of the descriptions were so fantastical that you could spend hours on one page trying to visualise it all and still not come close.
The story itself was one about regret, second chances and being careful what you wish for.
Both Beatrice and Rosa had the same choice to make but one said yes and one said no and you got to see how their lives worked out based on that decision.
And yet I couldn’t feel sorry for Rosa. She had the opportunity for happiness and she chose a title over love. Her attitude towards her husband was understandable, especially given his actions, but I feel there were other choices she could have made than the one she did. Rosa continued to mentally harass and psychologically torture her husband which made you really lose any sympathy you had for her.
Rosa was also very selfish, especially in demanding Beatrice give up the competition- claiming her own wish was more important.
I felt for Beatrice with her stutter and her depression and was pleased about her overall arc. She was a lovely person who made a bad decision but, ultimately, faced her regrets bravely.
The Winter Garden is a gothic wonderland tale, atmospheric and inspired and one I would not hesitate to recommend.