Historical Fiction Week: The Girl and the Sunbird by Rebecca Stonehill

This week I'm celebrating Historical Fiction Week on the blog, so I thought it would be the perfect time to read and review this novel set in Kenya at the beginning of the 20th century. Have a look at my thoughts here:

Title: The Girl and the Sunbird
Author: Rebecca Stonehill
Published: June 17th 2016 by Bookouture

Blurb: A haunting, heartbreaking and unforgettable novel of a woman married to a man she can never love, and drawn to another who will capture her heart forever… 

East Africa 1903: When eighteen year old Iris Johnson is forced to choose between marrying the frightful Lord Sidcup or a faceless stranger, Jeremy Lawrence, in a far-off land, she bravely decides on the latter. 

Accompanied by her chaperone, Miss Logan, Iris soon discovers a kindred spirit who shares her thirst for knowledge. As they journey from Cambridgeshire to East Africa, Iris’s eyes are opened to a world she never knew existed beyond the comforts of her family home. 

But when Iris meets Jeremy, she realizes in a heartbeat that they will never be compatible. He is cold and cruel, spending long periods of time on hunting expeditions and leaving Iris alone. 

Determined to make the best of her new life, Iris begins to adjust to her surroundings; the windswept plains of Nairobi, and the delightful sunbirds that visit her window every day. And when she meets Kamau, a school teacher, Iris finds her calling, assisting him to teach the local children English. 

Kamau is everything Jeremy is not. He is passionate, kind and he occupies Iris’s every thought. She must make a choice, but if she follows her heart, the price she must pay will be devastating.

First of all I would like to thank the publishers for sending me a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review: The Girl and the Sunbird tells the heart-breaking story of Iris Johnson, a girl who is sent to Africa to marry an older man. When we meet her, she is still living in Cambridge with her parents, who give her two options: stay and marry an awful Lord or travel to Africa and marry an unknown man (her mother finds an advert in a magazine). So Iris decides to leave her family and everything she knows behind hoping to find a fair man at the end of her journey. 

As she travels to Kenya, she is accompanied by a chaperone, Miss Logan. A beautiful and deep friendship grows between the two women and I was happy to discover that she remains a true friend to Iris for the whole story. But as soon as she arrives at Nairobi, Iris realises that Jeremy Lawrence, her new husband, is not a kind nor a fair man. Faced with this reality, Iris decides nevertheless to enjoy and discover her new country as much as she can and starts exploring around her new home.

I really enjoyed following Iris around Nairobi. The descriptions of this new and exotic place were generous and detailed and I could easily picture how it all must have look back then. Iris soon finds friendship in her tailor who introduces her to a local teacher, Kamau. That's when the story gets really interesting as you can feel the chemistry between them but know, at the same time, that nothing can happen between them and their future is doomed. However, I really liked the character of Kamau, he was kind and passionate and I was rooting for them since the beginning.

After this first part of the story, there are two more parts set later in time. I was a bit lost at the beginning of the second part as the jump in time is quite big and we don't really know what happened at the end of the first part. This annoyed me a bit as I just wanted to know more about Iris and Kamau. But as this part progressed and finally jumped into the third part, everything was discovered and I just couldn't stop reading to know it all. 

I was really shocked and touched with Iris' story. At the end of the novel, I felt like she was a close friend of mine and I couldn't help feeling both happy and sad by her story. Hers was not an easy life and she had to take too many tough decisions. She had many flaws and made some decisions I didn't completely agree with but all her flaws just made her all the more real to me. I'm sure this story will leave no one indifferent. A highly interesting and haunting historical novel. 

Rating: 4 stars

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