"Mendelian Shop of Horrors combined with a Little Irish Magic"

Tracy Fobes continues to broaden the scope of romantic fiction with this innovative new novel for the thinking woman. Romantic entertainment that stimulates the mind? Now there is as concept for the new millennium! This is in no way the mind numbing brain-candy that non-romance readers attribute to the genre. Of course I've always subscribed to the opinion that romance readers are some of the most passionate and intelligent people in the world.

I will admit to having fallen for our hero from the minute his eyes lit upon the heroine's scandalous undergarments. With his curiosity more than piqued he remained a gentleman, but I get ahead of myself.

A little bit of background on the main characters appears to be in order. The story takes place during the Victorian era, 1860 AD. The heroine is Mrs. Anne Sherwood, a young English widow who has been disappointed in both love and life. She had married the man of her parent's choosing, an older man who had learned of her ability to render amazingly accurate sketches of plant life. The naive girl had expected to be loved, but found her love life seriously lacking. She fulfilled herself by assisting her husband with his work instead. She had served as his secretary, copier, and illustrator for his 'Encyclopedia of Flowering Plants'. All her illusions are finally destroyed as, upon publication, she finds that her husband had taken sole credit for her work. Her hopes of hobnobbing with the Charles Darwin and his colleagues were dashed.

After her husband dies, her cousin, Sir Richard, sent for her offering her a position at Kew Garden's as an illustrator. She assumed an austere appearance, drab clothing and severe hairstyles, in order to be taken more seriously. Though her work was rather spectacular, many were of the opinion she was merely copying her late husband's work.

Opportunity knocks in the form of Lord Connock, a botanist who invites her to Ireland to illustrate some new and rare species of plants he's acquired. Lord Connock travels in the very scientific circles that Anne wishes to be a part of, so she accepts gladly.

The hero is Mr. Michael McEvoy. Michael is Lord Connock's naturalist. He had spent his younger years poor but happy on a farm in Connaught, until the death of his parents. He lost family and farm to the Irish potato famine. The lad was sent to a workhouse, where not even his spirit was fed.

Michael runs away to live in the wild. Some years later, stories of "the green man" reach Lord Connock. The scientist lures the young man out of the forest by leaving food for him. Lord Connock takes Michael in, gives him a home and civility in exchange for his knowledge of plant life. Michael has traveled the world bringing back new and rare species of plant life for study and cultivation. In his gratitude to the man who perhaps saved his life he doesn't question the man's activities or observe them closely.

Anne and Michael meet in an inn not far from Lord Connock's Glendale Hall. The coach Anne had traveled in had met with a mishap and she'd walked a far distance to reach the inn. At one point she is frightened by a rustling sound she imagines is being made by a wild predator and loses it completely when she is "grabbed" by the ankle by a strange vine of ivy. Upon discovering the inn, she speaks to Michael. She learns that he is the naturalist Lord Connock has spoken of, and asks him to arrange lodging for her and transportation to the Hall. Michael sees before him a most serious woman, her manner and appearance not at all attractive to his way of thinking. That's when the commotion begins and the pair notices a group of men gleefully ransacking a battered trunk. Oh my, the scandalous undergarments! Red-faced, Anne admits to Michael that they belong to her, and gentleman that he is he recovers it for her but not before he gets an eyeful of one scarlet corset. He speculates that there may be more to Anne than meets the eye.

The scandalous under-things are the least of Anne's secrets. She is blessed with the gift of seeing plant auras, sensing their needs through the various colors she sees in her mind. White signifies a healthy specimen, while black denotes death. Other colors may indicate a lack of moisture etc. Red indicates major distress. She senses great distress in all the plants living in Lord Connock's forest. Michael is intrigued by her perceptiveness, though she won't explain how she comes by her knowledge. He is in tune with nature due to his background but Anne is city bred. She is an appealing mystery. As events unfold Michael becomes very protective of Anne and more than a little attracted. He can't quite get those vivid under-garments out of his mind and seeks to draw out the real Anne.

While drawing Lord Connock's supposed new species, Anne observes that plant appears to be man made. The parts don't fit together, nor do they make sense. Combine that with strange encounters with very odd disappearing ivy, mysterious animal deaths, and a number of locked green houses the two become investigators as well. Just what is Lord Connock hiding in that particularly malodorous one, where strange light and terrifying sounds are emitted? Lord Connock claims his experiments will create the ultimate hybrid that will save the world from ever having to suffer starvation again. He is most committed to the causing having lost his own wife to the famine. Can the pair turn a blind eye to the mysterious occurrences and be grateful for their positions? How far is too far?

When Anne is finally given an opportunity to mingle with Darwin and company, everything goes awry. Anne flees in tears and is followed by a sympathetic Michael and soon Anne discovers a different sort of passion. Now she is torn between two desires. Michael too must make a choice. Anne has alerted him to the evil being wrought in the forest. Can he betray the man he owes his life to?

I have to admit that as a biologist, I may have a unique insight into this particular story. Hybridization was indeed one answer to the blight that cursed Ireland. Today with the advent of gene-splicing, we are on the brink of curing inherited diseases such as Cystic Fibrosis and yet I've have always been keenly aware of the possibilities for misuse of this capability. It is not unthinkable when industries are secretly dumping harmful pollutants into the environment that a person without conscience could misuse technology for their own glory or for profit. This Medelian Little Shop of Horrors of the Victorian era is not so far fetched.

Not to lose sight of the love story. It is a tender romance involving too people who due to their pasts are afraid to love. They are deeply attracted to each other but their goals are incompatible. They know their parting is inevitable, but their love just won't be denied. Will Anne be able to trust Michael with her secret and if so, will he scoff at her or give her the acceptance she craves? What will the future hold for a woman who must live in London to travel to achieve the recognition she craves and a man who wants nothing more than to once again find a home on a little farm in Connaught? Ah but then they say home is where the heart is, perhaps it's true. A little Irish magic goes a long way.

A fascinating tale, a tender love story. This book was a real page turner. Highly recommended.

Copyright 2000

Reviewed by Leslie Tramposch
Posted October 8, 2001


Widow Anne Sherwood, a botanical sketch artist, is hired by Lord Connock to work in the Irish Lord's greenhouse and finds both romance and evil waiting for her in his lush estate.


Forbidden Garden
by Tracy Fobes

March 1, 2000
ISBN #0671041738
EAN #9780671041731
401 pages
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Other Books by
Tracy Fobes

Portrait of a Man
Portrait of a Bride
My Enchanted Enemy
To Tame A Wild Heart
Daughter of Destiny
Heart of the Dove
Touch Not The Cat

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