The Winter Garden, by Kara Jorgensen, is book Two of the Ingenious Mechanical Devices series. It is not necessary to read the first book in the series before enjoying this novel.
**Possible Spoilers Ahead**
The Winter Garden is a neo-Victorian style novel. Immanuel Winter, a student at Oxford, rescues a young woman, Emmeline Jardine, after she drowns in the Thames by the use of a magical elixir that links their souls. Emmeline and her mother are members of the Oxford Spiritualist Society. One of the spiritualists, Alastair Rose, desires the secret of this elixir at any cost. He knows that the elixir will allow him dominion over the dead and the living.
I enjoyed this novel a great deal. I read it this last week when tornados were spotted in my area of the U.S. I had the TV alerts on in the background and started reading this book on my iPad to keep my mind off the storm. The fact that it was able to hold my attention during this time speaks volumes!
**Major Spoilers Ahead**
The characters are very realistic in this novel. Immanuel did strike me as the quintessential foreign exchange student in Oxford during the late 1800’s. He is respected by his mentor at the University but is only grudgingly accepted by his fellow students. At this time in British history there strong feelings of nationalism and foreigners were not easily accepted. When the men first start hunting for Immanuel in the library, a reader might at first assume that they were fellow students trying to torment the foreign student simply for the “crime” of being born in another country. This, however, is not the case.
Immanuel is kidnapped by Alastair Rose’s henchmen and tortured so he will reveal the secret of the magical elixir that brought Emmeline back to life. This was the most difficult part for me to read because I like Immanuel. Jorgensen does a wonderful job of putting in just enough detail so a reader can visualize the torture without being overly graphic. The aftermath—Immanuel’s injuries—are described in greater detail. There is no “magical healing” for him; the effects from the damage are lasting.
Emmeline is also kidnapped, but is not tortured. Their captors are trying an experiment; they injure Immanuel in hopes that it will affect Emmeline in some way. They hope to create a connection and then extract the elements of the elixir from them. She is treated rather nicely in comparison to Immanuel.
I found it hard at first to like Emmeline and I had to keep reminding myself how young she was so that I could look at her character objectively. I reminded myself that she had just died and been resurrected, had been kidnapped, her mother had died, and so forth. Otherwise the way she treated Immanuel would have made me root for the bad guys!
A light knocking on the door broke the girl’s tearful reverie as she clutched the picture to her chest. He was in the doorway carrying a tea tray. Her eyes roamed up to the liver scar across his cheek, the lasting reminder of her twenty-two days in captivity. Every time she looked at him, the inhuman howls of pain surfaced in her memory followed by the reverberating smacks of flesh being struck and the pleadings for mercy half indecipherable and the rest horrifically comprehensible. She had moved past all that now. She was becoming a medium. She wasn’t stuck there helplessly counting the days by his lamentations.
“I thought you could use some tea,” he began softly as he waited to be allowed in.
“Go away!” Emmeline spat as she spun her body toward the wall, blocking him from seeing her face. Eliza gaped at her niece but quickly turned to Immanuel who stared back uncertainly.
“That was very thoughtful of you, Immanuel. Thank you.”
He nodded stiffly and placed the tray on the dresser a little harder than he intended, rattling the porcelain cups and pot. “Good night, Mrs. Hawthorne.” His tone sharpened as he added, “Miss Jardine.”
Still—it is realistic. A young, wealthy, sheltered, and pampered woman during the late 1800’s would react in a similar fashion. Emmeline wants to live a life of luxury; to be presented in society and to go to parties and balls. She does not want to reflect on the ugliness of her captivity and Immanuel is a living, breathing reminder of that time. Her character develops over time into one which is a great deal more sympathetic as she realizes what is actually important in life.
It is fortunate for Emmeline that Immanuel feels bound to protect her and ensure her safety even during this early phase because Alistair Rose has not given up his ambitions to obtain the elixir.
I recommend The Winter Garden to anyone who enjoys neo-Victorian novels, science-fiction, mysticism, and a good mystery.