#BookReview The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan

The Fair BotanistsAbout the Book

Could one rare plant hold the key to a thousand riches?

It’s the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is abuzz with rumours of King George IV’s impending visit. In botanical circles, however, a different kind of excitement has gripped the city. In the newly-installed Botanic Garden, the Agave Americana plant looks set to flower – an event that only occurs once every few decades.

When newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in Edinburgh to live with her late husband’s aunt Clementina, she’s determined to put her unhappy past in London behind her. As she settles into her new home, she becomes fascinated by the beautiful Botanic Garden which borders the grand house and offers her services as an artist to record the rare plant’s impending bloom. In this pursuit, she meets Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman with a passion for botany and the lucrative, dark art of perfume creation.

Belle is determined to keep both her real identity and the reason for her interest the Garden secret from her new friend. But as Elizabeth and Belle are about to discover, secrets don’t last long in this Enlightenment city . . .

And when they are revealed, they can carry the greatest of consequences.

Format: eARC (384 pages)              Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Publication date: 5th August 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Fair Botanists transports the reader to 19th century Edinburgh, a city divided into rich and poor areas, and undergoing rapid development with new housing springing up on land formerly given over to farming.

Of the main protagonists, Belle Brodie was my favourite character. Independent minded and ambitious, she is prepared to pursue a life of pleasure without concern for social conventions. Using the knowledge she possesses that others would not want made public, she determinedly pursues her aim of developing a scent that she hopes many will pay a fortune to possess.

Initially Elizabeth comes across as quite a passive character, although the more I learned of her past experiences the more sympathy I felt towards her. I found her kindness towards her late husband’s cousin, the eccentric Lady Clementina, very touching.

Alongside the fictional characters there are references to, or appearances by, real life figures. Some of these are fleeting, such as Lady Henrietta Liston who over afternoon tea with Belle and Elizabeth christens the three of them the fair botanists of the title. Famous author, Sir Walter Scott, has more of the spotlight, entrusted with organizing the itinerary for the King’s visit to Edinburgh. The author’s detailed historical note explains more about the mix of fictional and real characters, and the background to their inclusion in the story.

The book is clearly the product of extensive research but, at times, it felt as if the author wanted to cram in everything, with multiple storylines and an extensive cast of characters. As a result, although The Fair Botanists had some fascinating elements, the book didn’t quite capture my imagination in the way I’d hoped. However, I am sure others will adore it.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Hodder & Stoughton via NetGalley.

In three words: Fascinating, well-researched, detailed

Try something similar: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

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About the Author

Sara Sheridan is a writer and activist who is interested particularly in female history. She has written more than 20 books.Sara Sheridan
Truth or Dare, her first novel received a Scottish Library Award and was shortlisted for the Saltire. Her novel On Starlit Seas, was shortlisted for the Wilbur Smith Prize in 2017. An occasional journalist, Sara has reported for BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent and on ‘being a lady’ for Women’s Hour. In 2019 Sara re mapped Scotland according to women’s history for Historic Environment Scotland – the resulting book Where are the Women was listed as one of the David Hume Institute’s Books of the year 2019. In it, she imagined several monuments to the witches.

Sara mentors fledgling writers for the Scottish Book Trust and has sat on the board of several writers’ organisations. In 2015, Sophie McKay Knight’s portrait of Sara garnered media and critical attention at the National Gallery of Scotland. (Photo credit: Goodreads/Bio credit: Author website)

Connect with Sara
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5 thoughts on “#BookReview The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan

  1. Ah… hm… too much information/detail, too many story lines, and too many characters? Hm.. Doesn’t sound like I’d enjoy this. I’m kinda getting tired of these elements in historical fiction. That and the dual time-lines between the historical period and the present day (or near to it).


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