A historical novel set in Edinburgh? Focussing on plants? With strong female characters? This book immediately appealed to me for obvious reasons, and I've read a few books by Sara Sheridan before.*
The Fair Botanists is set in Georgian Edinburgh in 1822, and focuses on the move of the city's Botanic Gardens from its site in Leith to its current site in Inverleith and the flowering of the giant Agave americana plant in the garden's glasshouses. The two main characters are Elizabeth, a recently widowed botanical illustrator and Belle, a courtesan and maker of perfumes, who become friends. There's a whole array of supporting characters, both historical (including King George IV, Sir Walter Scott) and fictional.
The historical detail is very detailed (some may say too detailed) and really brings to life Edinburgh as it was in those far off times, particularly the area around the Botanic Gardens and the Water of Leith. I particularly liked the descriptions of the large trees being moved through Edinburgh on the back of horse-drawn carts. I also liked the small details giving insight into the social customs of the day, like the two young characters who, after sharing their first taste of pineapple, decide to go and watch a public flogging, as their 'first date'.
Overall, this is an engaging read for anyone interested in historical Edinburgh, or the development of Botany or the place of women in 19th Century Edinburgh.
* you can read my reviews of some of Sara Sheridan's other books by following the links below: