Our heroine, Charlotte, is wildly entertaining. Author Siri Mitchell makes the humor really work by telling the story her Charlotte’s romantic entanglements from 1st person. Charlotte is book-smart—or shall I say plant-brilliant—as a botanist. But she’s clueless about the rules of society in 1850s England. She can’t dissemble at all to blend in, and when society doesn’t make sense to her, she says so. There are multiple times Charlotte prides herself on an interaction gone well, when I as a reader groaned and smiled because I saw how poorly it actually went when you read between the lines.
This combination of genius and total lack of comprehension both confound and draw in those around her. First, her well-meaning father and uncle, who have “neglected” her by allowing her to sit out the marriage market and study science, and now are shoving her forcibly into the social game. Then there is her new friend, the social butterfly Miss Templeton. It’s hard to tell just how smart Miss Templeton may be herself, because she is so much better at coyly hiding it, but she certainly can play the period ditz when she chooses. How to describe their friendship? Hm, imagine Cher from Clueless adopted Mary Bennet from Pride and Prejudice.
Of course the person who is most vexed and enthralled by our heroine is our hero, Mr. Trimble. And he’s an odd assembly of parts himself. Is he a New Zealand sheep farmer, botanist, secretary, runaway from a ne’er-do-well family, or what? And how does he know so much about high society that he feels he has the knowledge (and the gall) to lecture Charlotte not wear a dress with inkstains to a ball, or how to dance a waltz?
But the most insufferable part of this man is he took Charlotte’s job as her father’s assistant. I loved being in Charlotte’s mind as the highly frank and intellectual creature wrestled with having a new and traditional female role forced on her. She doesn’t take the loss of her scientific passions lying down. But her attempts to get her old position back by conniving to win suitors and make her father see how much he really needs her only land her in more trouble.
This book hinges on the question of the era, “What do women want?” And author Siri Mitchell does our two female characters the honor of recognizing it may be different for each woman. The men in our story all mean Charlotte well, but only some of them gradually become aware that by telling Charlotte what she wants instead of letting her decide, they may be trampling the flower in bloom instead.
Entertaining, good variation of pace, touches on themes both light and deep. I give it 5 stars. Or flowers.