5th January 1800. Alma Whittaker is born into a perfect Philadelphia winter. Her father, Henry Whittaker, is a bold and charismatic botanical explorer whose vast fortune belies his lowly beginnings as a vagrant in Sir Joseph Banks’ Kew Gardens and as a deck hand on Captain Cook’s HMS Resolution . Alma’s mother, a strict woman from an esteemed Dutch family, is conversant in five living languages (and two dead ones). An independent girl with a thirst for knowledge, it is not long before Alma comes into her own within the world of botany. But as Alma’s careful studies of moss take her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, the man she comes to love draws her in the opposite direction.
The writing is lovely, with the tempo and elegance of the historical period. Gilbert’s research is impressive, I don’t have green fingers at all but even so I was fascinated by the botanical information imparted during the story. I loved her storytelling style, absolutely engaging from the first page. I liked the characters – almost all of them – and how they developed and their individual quirks were revealed, the way the different strands of the story unfolded, and the insights into life and issues from the time period (late 18th century to late 19th).