I have always said that the one genre I haven’t read enough of which I want to explore more is historical fiction. So, naturally I jumped at the chance of taking part in T.L Mogford’s book tour for her first historical fiction novel, The Plant Hunter.
1867. When plant hunter Harry Compton receives a rare specimen and a map, he sets out to find fame and fortune. But where there is wealth there is corruption, and soon Harry is fleeing England, sailing up the Yangtze alongside a young widow – both in pursuit of the plant that could change their futures.
You would imagine that a book about flowers and plants would only be enjoyable and appealing to those who are “green fingered”. Whilst my fingers have a slight green tinge, I am not your typical gardener, but this book was very enjoyable, nonetheless.
We start off in 19th century London, an era which wasn’t the most attractive for our capital city. However, we meet Harry Compton, who at the time is a sales person for a well-respected plant nursery that sells rare and exotic plants alongside your traditional, British flowers and shrubbery. He is passionate about his craft and always has been since he was a child and has risen through the ranks of this place. However, life is repetitive. He wakes up, or as is often the case, is woken up by the mistress of the boarding house he lives in, Mrs Potts. Gets dressed, has breakfast, goes to work, and comes home, with the occasional social engagement mixed in between.
However, one chance engagement with a fellow Irish plant hunter and his whole life is changed. He has the chance to hunt down one of the rarest plants in the world, so rare there are no paintings or sketches, and is certainly not sold anywhere. It is so rare it has become a legend amongst the plant world and is known simply as the “icicle tree.” So, when the potential location of this infamous tree is revealed to him, he ups sticks and heads for China.
Along the way there are plenty of perils which await him from the joys of seasickness even to pirates. The seas and rivers back in 1867 were much more dangerous and we are pulled along with him as he conquers each of these obstacles.
As the story progresses, one thing I really enjoyed was seeing Harry’s growth as a person. At the beginning he is a quiet, timid man who is the typical “head-down and work” guy. But after facing many dangers, several which were life threatening, we see a change in him and he becomes a man, a confident, strong figure who won’t remain submissive any longer.
During the adventure, we travel all over the world. As you can imagine, back in those days there were no planes, so adventures were often by boat. We explored the depths of Singapore, avoided the monkeys on the rock of Gibraltar and sailed around Cape Town, and this is even before the proper adventure begins.
The way that each country and landscape is described is with such vivid imagery and beautiful scenes. Although we will never know truly what each country looked like with our own eyes, these descriptions help bring 19th century Africa/Europe/Asia to life in true colour. Plus, the description of the plants and flowers were truly stunning, and makes you want to look at all these wonderful specimens for real.
The element if romance was also a nice addition to the storyline whilst not compromising or overwhelming the main theme of the book.
When you think about plant discovery and plant hunting you would never necessarily associate such dangers and perils the adventure would bring. But this opened my eyes to the sacrifices and bravery these people made so that we could appreciate these beautiful specimens we often take for granted. This was an amazing first step in what will be for me many more historical fiction books.
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ a truly awe inspiring, eye opener of a read full of wonder, beauty, adventure, and suspense.
The Plant Hunter is out now!
About the author
T.L Mogford can trace his roots back to a line of famous horticulturalists – his greatest uncle has an apple tree named after him. Before becoming an author, he worked as a journalist for Time Out and as a translator for the European Parliament.
You can follow the author on Twitter (@ThomasMogford)