Today, I’m really excited to be reviewing the exquisite The Winter Garden by Alexandra Bell. Thank you so much to Del Rey UK for including me in the blog tour and sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Welcome to the Winter Garden. Open only at 13 o’clock.
You are invited to enter an unusual competition.
I am looking for the most magical, spectacular, remarkable pleasure garden this world has to offer.
On the night her mother dies, 8-year-old Beatrice receives an invitation to the mysterious Winter Garden. A place of wonder and magic, filled with all manner of strange and spectacular flora and fauna, the garden is her solace every night for seven days. But when the garden disappears, and no one believes her story, Beatrice is left to wonder if it were truly real.
Eighteen years later, on the eve of her wedding to a man her late father approved of but she does not love, Beatrice makes the decision to throw off the expectations of Victorian English society and search for the garden. But when both she and her closest friend, Rosa, receive invitations to compete to create spectacular pleasure gardens – with the prize being one wish from the last of the Winter Garden’s magic – she realises she may be closer to finding it than she ever imagined.
Now all she has to do is win.
Publication Date: 2nd September
TW: abuse, death, illness, grief
The Winter Garden captures that childhood wonderment and emotional pathos of the best fairy tales. It weaves the extraordinary sparks of light and hope into a moving and beautiful meditation on grief, motherhood and the lives that could have been.
Bell’s depiction of the magical competition was stunning to read. The magic is so entrancing, vivid and imaginative, giving it this visually spectacular feel that is so easy to picture. I loved how imaginative and unique their magical feats seemed, while they also always had so much heart poured into them. Through their use of magic, both protagonists explore their own individual regrets, dreams and desires. This human connection to these stunning feats gives them this extra emotional depth that really helps you connect with them. You end up dreaming of what you would create and how you would interact with these wonders.
I also loved Bell’s exploration of past regrets and how one action could have changed everything. Interwoven with the competition is this really impactful exploration of family, motherhood and abuse. It provides some dark moments, particularly with certain interactions that show what could have been. Family is ultimately what drives both protagonists, either to protect the ones they love or to finally fix a mistake from all those years ago. There’s a palpable sense of grief for what could have been that permeates the entire book, with Bell allowing us little snippets of these more blissful lives. In the present day of the competition, both women are fiercely determined to break free of the manipulation and control they’ve been subject to their entire lives. Bell also explores the intersection of the patriarchy and class, with a huge fixation of their marital status being tied up with notions of status and wealth. One protagonist has their own status and money, which allows them significantly more freedom than the other, who is tarred by the brush of new money and the resulting societal expectations to ‘marry up’.
The Winter Garden utterly cast a spell on me. It was everything I could’ve dreamed of and so much more, combining childhood awe, spectacular feats and a deeply emotional layer that pulled at my heartstrings.