The Eighth Wonder by Tania Farrelly
Book Review

Publication Date: July 2, 2021
Publisher: Michael Joseph
Format: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction


New York, 1897. The richest city in the world.

Beautiful, young and privileged, Rose Kingsbury Smith is expected to play by the strict rules of social etiquette, to forfeit all career aspirations and to marry a man of good means. But she has a quietly rebellious streak and is determined to make her own mark on Manhattan’s growing skyline. When the theft of a precious heirloom plunges her family into financial ruin, Rose becomes her family’s most tradeable asset. She finds herself fighting for her independence and championing the ideal of equality for women everywhere.

Enigmatic Ethan Salt’s inglorious circus days are behind him. He lives a quiet life on Coney Island with his beloved elephant Daisy and is devoted to saving animals who’ve been brutalised by show business. As he struggles to raise funds for his menagerie, he fears he will never build the sanctuary of his dreams … until a chance encounter with a promising young architect changes his life forever.

Just when Rose is on the verge of seeing her persistence pay off, the ghosts of her past threaten to destroy everything she holds dear. In the face of heartbreaking prejudice and betrayal, she must learn to harness her greatest wonder within.

From Fifth Avenue mansions to Lower East Side tenements and the carnivals of Coney Island, The Eighth Wonder explores the brilliance and brutality of one of the world’s most progressive eras and celebrates the visionaries who dare to rebel.

My Thoughts

Tania Farrelly's debut novel takes place in Gilded Age New York, an exciting and interesting time at the end of the 19th century. The era is evoked wonderfully here in all its historic detail - the disparity between rich and poor; the rise of the suffragettes, labour unions, American art and the ASPCA; innovative building design and materials; and Coney Island, the seaside resort famous for its amusement parks. Farrelly makes use of it all to tell an engaging and unusual story of two very different people, initially brought together by the shared love of elephants.

Rose's passion is building design. She wants to be an architect, but her ambition is a contentious issue between her mother and herself. Edith Kingsbury Smith measures success by social standing and her one aim is to ensure that Rose marries well.

When an heirloom is lost and the family headed for financial ruin, Edith becomes more obsessed with finding Rose a rich husband and couldn't be more satisfied when Chet Randall, the wealthy owner of Randall Enterprises, shows an interest in Rose. At first Rose is flattered by his attentions, but a decision she makes has dire consequences, not only for herself but also for Ethan Salt, his menagerie and especially Daisy, the ex-circus elephant.

There is so much going on in this novel. Rose becomes involved in various causes as well as her architectural work, but it all melds beautifully to reveal a young woman excited by the times in which she lives. Determined to succeed in her personal endeavours, she also supports and is supported by other women just as eager to improve their lives.

There are some harrowing moments involving the treatment of animals, including Daisy, which is totally cruel and barbaric by today's standards. That Ethan undertook to save as many of these mistreated animals as he could and lavish them with love endeared him to me. Although beset with monetary woes and public opposition, he continued to do his best for them. The bond he shared with Daisy and Honey, his old dog, is very affecting.

This was a phenomenal read. An excellent debut novel I'm very happy to recommend.

Thank you to Penguin Random House Australia for providing a complimentary copy of this book to review.

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