Set in 1909, The White Camellia focuses on the women’s suffrage movement, a group less well-known than the suffragettes who, for years, had been meeting in tea rooms and campaigning peacefully for women’s rights. The book follows the story of Bea, a young woman forced to leave her beautiful home, Tressillion, and move to London, where she finds herself responsible for the welfare of her mother and younger sister. It seems like her only option is to marry her cousin, Jonathan, who inherited the estate, but then Bea stumbles upon The White Camellia, a women’s tea room, and discovers a world of excitement and possibility.
Meanwhile, Sybil moves into Tressillion House, drawn to it despite her misgivings, determined to put the past behind her. The locals are hoping she’ll re-open the old mine, but Sybil must take care not to reveal her true identity, fearful that an act of revenge from years ago could come back to haunt her.
The White Camellia is a moving story, portraying the lives of ordinary women who take huge risks in standing up for themselves and fighting for justice. I really identified with the character of Bea, who is determined to become a journalist and earn her own living, rather than becoming dependent on a husband. Sybil is an unusual character – a lone wealthy female, able to buy property and determine her own future, yet haunted by a past that won’t let her go and unable to escape the constraints of Victorian society. The stories of the two women are obviously connected in some way, but it’s not until quite near the end that all is revealed.
The book is full of suspense, mystery and engaging characters, with a small portion of romance and plenty of drama. The historical background has clearly been thoroughly researched, and you can read more about the research on the author’s blog. It’s fascinating to read about the horrific treatment of women by the police, even when they are protesting peacefully. My only criticism is that I would have liked the book to be longer, with a little more detail. It was over too soon.
The White Camellia was released on 15th September, published by Honno Press.
Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.