And, it was, indeed, a meaty look at the life of the Finnegan family, a hardworking Irish immigrant family living in the very poor Whitechapel area of east London during the days when factory owners held all of the power and a serial killer named Jack the Ripper was terrorizing the people of the area.
Young Fiona Finnegan works in a tea factory, and knows so much about tea that she can identify the type of tea simply by smelling and feeling the leaf. Since she was a small girl, she has known that she would marry the man she loves, Joe Bristow, whose family sells produce from carts in the East End. Fiona’s father works in the tea factory for extremely long hours and is paid a pittance while the owner brings home the big bucks. Her mother stays at home and keeps a house for Fiona, her two brothers and a baby sister. Mr. Finnegan, in an effort to earn a living wage for the tea workers, becomes involved in the creation of a union. He is killed one night by the owner for his efforts. That same night, Fiona’s family crumbles in a variety of ways, and eventually she and her young brother Seamus barely escape with their lives on a ship to New York City. There, she hopes to find her Uncle Michael who is the proprietor of a grocery store in the Big Apple.
In the way of most huge, epic novels, Fiona’s story is complicated and complex and interesting and scary and romantic. The novel is in the neighborhood of 600 pages long, so it’s impossible to tell you everything that happens, nor would it be fair to take the fun out of it. I will admit that if the author had allowed me to edit her novel, it would have been considerably shorter. I found the author to be such a great storyteller that I often couldn’t put the book down in my desire to see what happens next. Still, she went into a lot of detail when it came to the stories of what happens to Fiona and her friends and family. Many, many words. A lot of story lines. And many more coincidences than are even vaguely realistic. Just how often can Fiona and Joe pass within a block of one another or just miss one another by seconds?
Still, I really enjoyed the book, and loved the characters I was supposed to love and hated the characters I was supposed to hate. The romantic element was just as unrealistic as most romance novels, and yet I couldn’t help rooting for Fiona and Joe to find their way back to one another. I liked the descriptions of both London and New York City, and enjoyed seeing Fiona make her way from a poor tea seller to one of the richest women in the world. And heck, they even solve the mystery of who was Jack the Ripper!
The second in the trilogy is The Winter Rose, and I will be interested in seeing what happens next.