The Botanist’s Daughter

Written by Kayte Nunn
Review by Christine Childs

This is Australian author Kayte Nunn’s first historical novel. A love of botany inspired Nunn to write this multi-period novel set in Australia, England, and Chile.

The Botanist’s Daughter is written in third person with two strong female protagonists living 130 years apart. There are parallels between the two women despite being born in vastly different times and places. We meet both after they have suffered a family bereavement that sets their lives on an unusual course of action. Both women are single, with married sisters. Finally, both have a strong connection with botany.

Anna is a landscape gardener in Sydney, Australia who has just inherited her deceased grandmother’s house. A box is found during renovations containing mysterious objects from the 19th century. How it came to be there and what the link is to her grandmother sets Anna on a journey across the globe to Cornwall in England.

Elizabeth is a botanist’s daughter with a gift for illustrating plants. Her father travelled the world in search of rare botanical specimens. On his deathbed in 1886, he forces his previously sheltered daughter to agree to go to Chile in search of a rare and deadly plant, before his archrival finds it. Elizabeth sets out on the secret mission with her lady’s maid, under the guise of wanting to paint exotic plants. She unleashes an unexpected and dramatic series of events that reverberate all the way to Anna in modern-day Australia.

The Botanist’s Daughter is a great example of a historical novel that transports us in time via specific objects from the past. It has several quests, dramatic twists and a little bit of romance. The botanical descriptions add a pleasant sensory dimension without distracting from the storyline.