The Poppy and the Rose by Ashlee Cowles
1912: Ava Knight, a teen heiress, boards the Titanic to escape the shadow of her unstable mother and to fulfill her dream of becoming a photographer in New York. During the journey she meets three people who will change her life: a handsome sailor, a soldier in the secret Black Hand society that will trigger World War I, and a woman with clairvoyant abilities. When disaster strikes the ship, family betrayals come to light.
2010: When Taylor Romano arrives in Oxford for a summer journalism program, something feels off. Not only is she greeted by a young, Rolls Royce-driving chauffeur, but he invites her to tea with Lady Mae Knight of Meadowbrook Manor, an old house with a cursed history going back to the days of Henry VIII. Lady Knight seems to know a strange amount about Taylor and her family problems, but before Taylor can learn more, the elderly woman dies, leaving as the only clue an old diary. With the help of the diary, a brooding chauffeur, and some historical sleuthing, Taylor must uncover the link between Ava’s past and her own….
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Told through two timelines, The Poppy and the Rose explores questions of past, present, future, and fate.
On the one hand, we follow Taylor Romano in her journey to Oxford for a summer journalism program, where she meets an eccentric old woman who knows more about Taylor’s family history than she’s letting on. On the other hand, we spend the bulk of our time with Ava Knight, a passenger on the Titanic and a young woman on the brink of earth-shattering change. Darting between the two timelines unravels a mystery that spans generations, and with it come many questions about free will versus fate, and the price of knowledge.
Personally, this wasn’t the book for me, not by any means.
I’ll be absolutely up front about that. The Poppy and the Rose may appeal to more avid readers of historical fiction, but it left me feeling that I wasted my time. I initially requested it via NetGalley because the mystery element jumped out at me, something it didn’t do in the book. Sure, Taylor wraps herself up in discovering her father’s history without her mother’s shadow to hold her back, and Ava is up to her eyeballs in a life-threatening mystery surrounding her father, an apparently psychic woman, and the fate of Europe and beyond. But the elements to keep me guessing?
Well, I still haven’t found them, since the connections that our characters can’t make are apparent to the reader from the start.
Within the first fifth of the book or so, I had most of it worked out. It wasn’t lucky guesses so much as it was a heavy reliance on cliches that so readily prop up split timelines like the one The Poppy and the Rose utilizes. Nothing about it particularly surprised me, and I truthfully only kept reading it because I’m outrageously stubborn and have yet to DNF a book on purpose in my life.
A mystery should have solutions, too, not just questions.
Possibly my biggest gripe next to the perfectly average plot and characters is the roundabout nature of the ending. As ever, I try to avoid spoilers here, but I can say that it brings me little to no satisfaction. Key items and revelations never reach fruition, and a major plot point remains intentionally unresolved. On the one hand, the book is trying to interrogate fate versus free will, and whether knowledge can change one or the other. It also asks if that greater knowledge is even worth possessing.
On the other hand, it produces an effect that says to me that I wasted my time reading 260 pages for very few answers. It’s not a pleasant feeling, as a reader. And I certainly can’t give it a recommendation while I feel this way. Poetic justice only works when it’s satisfying, rather than vague.
“Well, I guess it’s lost forever” really doesn’t cut it when I’ve spent a whole book waiting to see how things pull together on all fronts.
I’ll admit I sound critical in this review, so let me be clear: this is not a good book, but neither is it bad.
Frankly, I think The Poppy and the Rose occupies a space of perfectly average. It attempts to ask lofty questions about life, love, and the intertwined nature of fate and time, but it forgets to create characters worth investing in, and presents a mediocre plot. As a light read for historical fiction fans who go in with the bar set low, maybe this will be worth the time. Going in with high expectations of any sort, however, will likely ruin the experience.
Maybe if this had been a different genre, I would have enjoyed it more despite its flaws. As things stand, however, The Poppy and the Rose did little to stand out in my eyes, and I’m not terribly concerned if it quickly falls into the realm of forgettable.
CW: loss of a loved one, racism, miscarriage, suicide, drug use, addiction, violence