Rebel Heiress by Fiona Mountain

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Rebel Heiress by Fiona Mountain

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Category: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: This follows the lives and loves of an incredibly fascinating character - one of the earliest documented collectors and explorers of the natural world. Filled with action, heartbreak and love, we accompany Eleanor through her struggles both with her family and the scientific community at large.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 672 Date: September 2010
Publisher: Arrow
ISBN: 978-1848091658

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Based on the life of a pioneer in the world of butterfly collecting, this novel was an enchanting and enthralling read. Born into a rigorously devout Puritan family, young Eleanor is an anomaly both in her outlook and attitude - and her butterfly collecting interests set her further apart from the more traditional ladies. The prejudices of the times are well explained, and the level of historical detail is sufficient to give the reader a good understanding of the tensions of the period.

Eleanor is a loving and passionate individual. Her first marriage to Edmund, with whom she fell in love when she was a child, was a happy and fulfilling - in some ways, an equal - relationship. However, his best friend, Richard, introduces yet more tension to Eleanor's life. Attracted to him physically, she begins to compare Edmund unfavourably with him, and the potential for disaster is flagged at an early stage. I must confess that throughout, my sympathies remained with Edmund. Richard was just too much of a rogue - the archetypal lady's man, and I was surprised that Eleanor didn't see through his cunning ruses. Another character to whom she is attracted is the renowned James - a kindred spirit in the world of collecting and apothecary, and he plays an important and pivotal role in Eleanor's life and that of her family.

The descriptions of Eleanor's passion and dedication to her hobby make for engrossing reading. Born before her time, she does her best to learn, to educate her children, and to further the collection of butterflies in the scientific world to which she aspires. The scientific world has no place for her dedication - but undeterred, she continues, supported by James and some of his colleagues.

She also has to face prejudices and fears in her local village. Being the lady of the manor, her pursuits are viewed with suspicion, and rumours spread that she is mad, a witch… or both! The village is polarised into supporting her - either clandestinely or openly, in a few cases. The loyalty expressed by her workers and tenants is touching, and she does her best to repay them in kind. She is a genuinely complex soul, born before her time with the propensity to do much good - and the fact that she achieves so much in her life is to be much admired.

Her relationship with her children is wonderful. She is very much a 'hands-on' mother, who adores, educates, and plays with her children. The girls are rather one dimensional, but both boys - Forest and Dickon - are fascinating characters in their own right. Some of the best scenes in the book are those which depict Eleanor with her children. Fortunately, one of her sons also turns out to be an avid collector!

Underpinning the narrative is a huge amount of excitement, drama and tension. The novel is indeed as much a thriller as it is a historical saga. Eleanor's stamina and determination not to be cowed by any one person or institution is commendable, and it leads her into some dreadfully dangerous and poignant situations. The conclusion to the novel is surprising - and somewhat abrupt - yet in its own way, is quite a satisfying end to an almost impossible situation. The author has written a marvellous novel, full of excitement, compassion and love - just like its protagonist!

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of Isabella by Fiona Mountain.

Recommended Reading - Chasing Angels by Sally Zigmond

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