The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan

It is the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is buzzing with rumours of a royal visit. The Botanic Gardens are being moved from Leith Walk to the new site near Inverleith House. The book opens with a marvellous  description of the trees being moved from one site to the other and I was astonished to find out that this had actually happened. In the greenhouse is a plant, Agave Americana, which is due to flower any day. As this only happens once in several decades, there is a lot of interest. Many people have their eye on the limited number of flowers and seeds that will be produced, and will go to great lengths to acquire them.

I liked that the two main characters were female at a time when women were severely restricted in what they could accomplish in their daily lives. Elizabeth Rocheid has come to live at Inverleith House with her late husband’s aunt, Clementina, and is a talented botanical artist who previously worked at Kew Gardens. Belle Brodie is the illegitimate daughter of the granddaughter of a Duke, the mistress of two rich men, and supplements her income creating  exotic perfumes.  They are unlikely allies, but have in common that they have made the best of their less than ideal situations.

Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, The Fair Botanists is a seamless blend of fictional characters with events (and people) from history and gives the reader a vivid portrait of Enlightenment Edinburgh. I had not read anything by Sara Sheridan before, but I really enjoyed The Fair Botanists so will look out for some of her earlier books. Thanks to Headline and Friends of Bookends for an ARC to review.