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Discovery, Desire, Deception: Review of The Botanist’s Daughter by Kayte Nunn

July 30, 2018

It’s 1886, and 25-year-old Elizabeth Trebithick is preparing for the greatest journey of her life. Just weeks before his death, her late father, a famed botanist who had told her of a perilous plant-hunting expedition he had been planning before falling ill, had implored Elizabeth to go in his place. An aspiring botanist herself, Elizabeth is determined to fulfil her father’s wishes, and is preparing to wave her Cornish home goodbye to journey to Chile in search of the Devil’s Trumpet, an elusive, much sought after plant with both deadly and miraculous healing properties.

The voyage from Cornwall to Chile is hazardous, but even more danger awaits Elizabeth when she arrives at her destination. Damien Chegwidden, a ruthless English plant-hunter Elizabeth’s father had warned her about, is on the hunt for the Devil’s Trumpet too, and if the dangerous plant falls into his hands, who knows what will happen? Can Elizabeth find the plant before Chegwidden does? What other surprises await her in this strange new land?

A century and a half later in present-day Sydney, Anna Jenkins is renovating the home of her beloved late grandmother. As walls and shelves are knocked down, Anna finds an old notebook and a mysterious old box, hidden in a hole in the wall. Curious, Anna opens the box to find a sketchbook of beautiful botanical illustrations, as well as a small bag of seeds and a faded old photograph dated 1886.

A horticulturalist herself, Anna is intrigued, and enlists the help of an old university friend whom she hopes will shed some light on the wonderful sketches. It turns out Anna’s best bet for answers is a botanist working at Kew Gardens in England, and this sets Anna off on a remarkable journey from London and then to Cornwall, worlds away from her safe and carefully ordered life in Sydney. Can she uncover the full story behind the mysterious box? Will she be able to conquer her own demons during her travels?

The Botanist’s Daughter is Kayte Nunn’s first work of historical fiction, and it’s a triumph. Nunn’s incredibly thorough research has brought 19th Century Cornwall and Chile to vivid and convincing life, and the novel is brimming with fascinating botanical detail. Nunn has spoken of her lifelong interest in botany, and her passion shines through in her beautiful descriptions of Chilean flora in particular. It makes the novel a real joy to read – and of course it’s a joy to look at too, with its beautiful cover. (We also loved the wonderful Cornish surnames, Trebithick and Chegwidden!).

Anna and Elizabeth are wonderfully drawn characters, and Nunn weaves masterfully between their stories. Mystery, suspense, unexpected romance and twists make this story endlessly entertaining.

Fans of classy storytellers Kate Morton and Jojo Moyes are going to love The Botanist’s Daughter. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

About the author

Kayte Nunn is a former book and magazine editor with over two decades of publishing industry experience, and is the author of two contemporary novels, Rose’s Vintage and Angel’s Share. The Botanist’s Daughter is Kayte’s first novel of transporting historical fiction, and stems in part from her love of flowers and all things botanical.

Purchase a copy of The Botanist’s Daughter here 



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