Forbidden Garden, by Tracy Fobes

>> Wednesday, May 07, 2003

Forbidden Garden (links to the excellent AAR review), by Tracy Fobes

Anne Sherwood has made her life into a safe, orderly garden. She draws the plants of London's famous Kew Gardens, an entirely suitable occupation for a widowed lady in Queen Victoria's England. Then a compelling invitation takes her to Ireland, to sketch a recently discovered tree...a golden sapling with unusual qualities and even more mysterious origins. Determined to learn more, Anne finds herself confronting Michael McEvoy, an enigmatic figure who prefers the loneliness of the wild to society and its entrapments.

Michael's heart beats to the rhythm of the land. The ebb and flow of the seasons and the cadence of nature are his calender and clock. When the prim Englishwoman arrives, he is stunned to discover her conventional exterior hides a kindred spirit, one as sensitive as he to growing things...his perfect mate. But, as much as he longs to make her his, they must first expose the origins of the sapling and the dangerous corruption of nature it represents...
This was a B for me. I loved many things about this book. For one thing, it was very fresh and original. The AAR reviewer compares it to one of those 50s "giant irradiated insect" movies, and yes, that's exactly what it reminded me of... one of those movies set in Victorian times. It doesn't sound like it'd work, but it does, beautifully.

Not only does it work, it doesn't feel at all silly, and I found it very relevant. Again, the AAR reviewer makes a very insightful point I couldn't agree more with: the giant insect movies reflected a valid concern about the effects of radiation, and this book brings to mind the fears many people have about the effects of genetically modified crops. I think I could guess what Fobes thinks about this subject!

That part of the plot was wonderfully developed. The way the protagonists gradually began to suspect there was something wrong and how their fears started to grow, were very well-done. It was pretty clear to the reader what was going on, and one could even make a good guess about what Connock had been trying to do, but we're looking at this from a 21st century perspective. Anne and Michael's reactions felt appropriate for people of their time.

What wasn't so strong was the romance. That is, I thought the balance between the romance and the sci-fi plot was perfect... with books with strong paranormal or sci-fi plots, I often feel that the space allotted to the romance is insufficient, but not here. The problem was that for me, Anne and Michael didn't really gel as a couple. Their whole physical relationship felt like too much, too soon, and I never sensed any real intimacy between tham, for all the steamy love scenes they had.

I wasn't very satisfied by the ending, either. Connock does something there, in the end, that feels completely out of character, and everything is tied up too neat and easy. And fast, everything felt rushed, too.

However, I very much enjoyed this book. I'd recommend it to anyone who wants to try something fresh.

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