Reading ‘The Rose Garden’ in Devonshire, England

the rose gardenThe Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
Allison and Busby: 2011 (Fantasy / Time Travel / Historical Fiction)

Outstanding adventure!

There isn’t much I like more than reading books set in the places I travel to. Sometimes, reading these books before I travel will make the trip seem more exciting; sometimes, reading them while I’m there allows me to emotionally and intellectually immerse myself more fully in (or even provide distance from) the experience of travel and adventure.

That will come as no surprise to our followers, since our whole blog is about the places you can go with books. No surprise that we love traveling almost as much as we love reading.

As soon as I learned that Devon and Cornwall are neighbors, I knew that a re-read of Susanna Kearsley’s The Rose Garden was a must. It is perhaps my favorite Kearsley novel, and it’s set in Cornwall. OK, so I wasn’t actually in Cornwall. But Devon is as close as you can get, I believe –  and there are several cultural and geographic commonalities between the Cornwall I was reading about and the Devon I was adventuring in.A re-read is often more comforting than a new read, and comfort is no bad thing on a solo trip to a foreign country. Also, I couldn’t think of another book that wasn’t Hound of the Baskervilles that was set in Devon. Or, maybe I didn’t try very hard, having decided on The Rose Garden.

Susanna Kearsley is fast becoming one of my favorite authors. She is able to weave beautiful love stories into a tapestry of convincing historical and contemporary fantasy-fiction, brought together by time-travel. She has a way of carrying me through the centuries, leaving me bereft in the modern age at the last page, and still, satisfied with the protagonists’ happily ever afters.

Eva has returned to an estate in Cornwall, famous for growing historical varieties of roses. She and her family used to spend their summers there when she was a child. She has gone there to scatter her sister’s ashes. She stays to help her friends build a tea room to attract tourists and revenue. While there, she discovers a strange ability to travel through time to 1715, when she meets Daniel Butler and Fergal O’Cleary, Jacobite rebels and smugglers. She gets dragged into the local (historical) conflict between them and the sadistic local constable, and begins to fall in love.

The romantic arc is really sweet. I loved how Daniel and Eva came together. Daniel is more accepting of the bizarre circumstances of Eva’s arrival than Eva herself is, and he’s incredibly open-minded for a man in the 18th century. Perhaps this makes him less convincing as a historical character, but it also makes him more palatable. A book that delved into a complete change in his attitudes from conventional 18th century to modern times would have been much longer, if still interesting. Eva finds her self drawn increasingly to both Daniel and Fergus with each step back in time, but from her very first journey finds something irresistible about Daniel. Tension is increased by Eva’s inability to control her travels, and her sudden appearances and disappearances in time, as well as the doings  of the Jacobites and their conflicts with both personal and political enemies.

This book, about two people from different eras, is even more about family than it is about romance. Eva, who has lost her whole family, travels to Cornwall to recapture her childhood and to be with the friends who made up part of her family back then. What she learns is that home is not a place, but people. And in the end, she has to discover who her people are. Are they Daniel and Fergal, or are they Claire, Susan, and Mark, her childhood friends? The ending left a little (a very little) to be desired, although it was fitting.

It was an excellent choice to bring with me on my trip to Devon. Sweet, familiar, evocative of time and place, it comforted me in the times between my adventures.

Recommended for readers of historical fiction, fantasy, and time-travel.


Similar Reads

There are really so many good time-travel novels. Some romantic, some not.

If you haven’t read Outlander yet, now is the time, with the new TV series wrapping up its first season this year, and all the hype everywhere about it. Honestly, I really really enjoyed it. Claire is a nurse in the 1940s/50s who unknowingly gets sent back in time when she enters a ring of standing stones in Scotland. She meets Jamie Fraser, highlander and hero…


Archetype is a futuristic science fiction built on an amnesic heroine, but for some subjective reason it feels similar to me. The romance is probably what does it, even though there’s a bit of a love triangle with an anti-hero. It also just occurred to me that what the heroine remembers of the time before her amnesia and the time after feel sort of like traveling through time. Anyway, I loved both books in the two-part series.


Doomsday Book is one of the best time-travel novels, and Connie Willis one of the wittiest science fiction authors. From what I remember, there isn’t much romance, but the medieval period, as experienced by the time traveling heroine, comes to vivid life.


Michael Crichton, one of the best suspenseful science fiction authors, wrote a time travel novel that takes scientists and archaeologists back to the 14th century, during the Hundred Years’ War. It’s called Timeline. There’s a bit of romance in it, too. Check it out.


Kindred is the first book I’ve read by Octavia Butler, and it’s definitely given me a hunger to read more of her books. A bit heavier than Outlander, The Rose Garden, and Archetype, it’s seriousness/danger/tragedy is more on a level with Doomsday Book and Timeline. It questions the complex nature of individuals living in an unjust society, and explores a modern woman’s experience of slavery in America.


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