Frances Irvine, left destitute in the wake of her father’s sudden death, has been forced to abandon her life of wealth and privilege in London and emigrate to the Southern Cape of Africa. 1880 South Africa is a country torn apart by greed. In this remote and inhospitable land she becomes entangled with two very different men—one driven by ambition, the other by his ideals. Only when the rumor of a smallpox epidemic takes her into the dark heart of the diamond mines does she see her path to happiness.
But this is a ruthless world of avarice and exploitation, where the spoils of the rich come at a terrible human cost and powerful men will go to any lengths to keep the mines in operation. Removed from civilization and disillusioned by her isolation, Frances must choose between passion and integrity, a decision that has devastating consequences.
The Fever Tree is a rather mixed affair and left me unsure how to rate it. McVeigh is a good writer and I particularly enjoyed her descriptions of South Africa which were vividly brought to life, however it was told from the point of view of Frances who failed to appreciate any of it. To McVeigh’s credit, it is easy for the reader to see beyond Frances’ prejudices but it would have been nice if the narrative had been shared with the other characters, especially Edwin. The social implications of the mines on the natives are only hinted at for the most part because Frances has no real interest in it so I definitely would have enjoyed learning more from Edwin.
Unfortunately, I disliked Frances immensely as she spends most of the novel whining about the harshness of her new life while making absolutely no effort to improve it. I suppose Frances is on a journey of self-discovery but her realisations comes far too late and she really doesn’t earn her second chance. In a way, certain elements of this story reminded me a lot of Gone With The Wind, and while Scarlett O’Hara may have been selfish at times, she was always likeable and her strong spirit endeared her to the reader. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Frances who is never anything but weak. Like Scarlett, Frances is in love with another man for most of the novel, a man not her husband and ultimately unworthy of her love, but she is an appalling judge of character.
The last few chapters where Frances is trying to redeem herself are rather rushed as is her reconciliation with Edwin of which we only catch a glimpse. I would have liked her to have had to win Edwin back instead of him just capitulating and then it would’ve felt like Frances had really learned her lesson.
While there were parts of the book I didn’t enjoy, I did like McVeigh’s writing style so I wouldn’t be adverse to reading her future books.