The Tea Planter’s Daughter is the first in the India Tea series and follows the tale of two sisters, Clarissa and Olive Belhaven, who grew up on their father’s tea plantation in India. As most of the smaller plantations are being bought by the powerful Robson family, Clarissa’s father is determined his plantation will remain in the family but times are changing and the plantation is drowning in debt. When the enigmatic Wesley Robson offers to marry Clarissa to save the plantation, she rebuffs his offer but is soon regretting her hastiness when her father unexpectedly dies and the sisters are facing ruin. Swallowing her pride, Clarissa goes to Wesley for help but he’s already left India and taken her only hope with him.
Forced to sell the only home they’ve ever known, the sisters travel to England to live with their father’s brother but they are treated as little more than servants in a country where their mixed heritage is met with scorn. Life is harsh in Tyneside but Clarissa is determined to survive and dreams of having her own tea room one day. Just when Clarissa fears her dreams will never be realised, she is offered a lifeline when she becomes the personal maid to the sick wife of a wealthy businessman and is allowed to bring Olive with her. Things finally seem to be improving for the Belhaven sisters, but tragedy is never far away and Clarissa is shocked when Wesley Robson comes back into her life but is it too late for them?
The plot of The Tea Planter’s Daughter is fairly predictable and relies a little too much on misunderstandings between the characters for my liking but it was the settings that drew me in more than anything. I love books set in India and Trotter creates a very vivid picture of what life would’ve been like for a plantation owning family at the start of the twentieth century, particularly one where the daughters are mixed race. Eighteen year old Clarissa is an interesting character who has been forced to step up after the death of her mother as her father drinks himself to death in his study. Luckily, Clarissa is knowledgeable enough about the tea business to keep the plantation in order but it isn’t long before she realises their production methods are too old-fashioned for the plantation to be profitable and her father doesn’t have the finances to invest in the new machinery needed.
Much is made of the great rivalry between the Belhaven and Robson families dating back to their days in Tyneside, however the tensions between the two families isn’t really explored in depth and I didn’t really feel it. The enmity does mean Clarissa has a pre-conceived prejudice against the family and although she is attracted to Wesley Robson when she meets him, she is immediately suspicious of his intentions. As Wesley turns out to be Clarissa’s only hope of saving the plantation, she is left in a quandary when he leaves India and her prejudice towards him proves to be costly.
The contrast between the lush climate of India and the cold, grey streets of Tyneside is a jarring one and is portrayed realistically as the sisters suddenly find themselves struggling to survive on the charity of others. Clarissa’s strength of character means she makes the most of the situation but a physically weaker Olive is incapable of doing much work which increases Clarissa’s burden. Olive is only thirteen but her constant whining about their situation started to get on my nerves after a while and she eventually comes across as ungrateful regarding her sister’s sacrifices.
The romance between Wesley and Clarissa isn’t strongly portrayed, mainly because so much of the plot hinges on the misunderstanding that drives them apart, but Clarissa seems more in love with the idea of him more than anything else. They only meet a couple of times in India so there isn’t much time to build a strong foundation between them and for that reason, the romance never did ring true to me. By the time, Wesley and Clarissa meet again in Tyneside, there are further obstacles in their path but I still didn’t feel like it was a great romance.
Despite the flaws, the setting in India and Tyneside was enough to hold my interest, mainly because my grandfather’s family comes from that area and I like to get a feel for how my ancestors would’ve lived back then. And who doesn’t love a family saga?