Reading The Fair Botanists has been my latest fascinating journey back in time. I’m grateful I had the chance to fling away to Edinburgh back then, in 1822,  at a time of cultural brilliancy and great change.

As I am fond of Scotland, the 19th century, historical fiction and - why not? -  flowers and perfumes, how could I not enjoy Sara Sheridan’s latest novel?


Could one rare plant hold the key to a thousand riches?

It’s the summer of 1822 and Edinburgh is abuzz with rumours of King George IV’s impending visit. In botanical circles, however, a different kind of excitement has gripped the city. In the newly-installed Botanic Garden, the Agave Americana plant looks set to flower – an event that only occurs once every few decades.

When newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in Edinburgh to live with her late husband’s aunt Clementina, she’s determined to put her unhappy past in London behind her. As she settles into her new home, she becomes fascinated by the beautiful Botanic Garden which borders the grand house and offers her services as an artist to record the rare plant’s impending bloom. In this pursuit, she meets Belle Brodie, a vivacious young woman with a passion for botany and the lucrative, dark art of perfume creation.

Belle is determined to keep both her real identity and the reason for her interest the Garden secret from her new friend. But as Elizabeth and Belle are about to discover, secrets don’t last long in this Enlightenment city . . .

And when they are revealed, they can carry the greatest of consequences.



I love when you smell, touch and clearly see in your inward eye – quoting one of my favourite Romantic poets, Wordsworth - what the words narrate and describe.  Well, it practically means I love when a story is very well written. I appreciate even more when I can recognize research, accuracy and respect behind the good story-telling. You find all that in The Fair Botanists

The cast of compelling characters is led by two charming heroines, Elizabeth and Belle, and include illustrious historical figures you’ll be delighted to meet in Sheridan’s lively portrayals. Just one name for them all, Sir Walter Scott. 

But you’ll also be intrigued by less famous real-life characters like William McNab and Robert Graham, whose well-documented stories have been interwoven with the fictional lives of many  of the characters,  obtaining an interesting, multi-layered, lively picture.

I was hooked by the mystery and the secrets, engaged by the historical references and the social issues hinted at, charmed by the flowers and the perfumes, entertained by the lively style, titillated by the romantic liaisons.  

I’m sure you’ll love Elizabeth and Belle and their adventures.   I hope they’ll stay with you, in Sara Sheridan’s words, “as an echo of our foremothers and the lives they might have lived, for history is endlessly complicated and full of secrets, and in my view is as much herstory as his one”.



A charm of a book. A spirited tale of female empowerment set amongst the blossoms of enlightenment Edinburgh, it is suffused with the rich perfume of its historical era. Lively and generous-hearted, with an array of utterly engaging characters, this enchanting novel reads like a warm tonic for the soul -- Mary Paulson-Ellis

Delightfully original, sensuous historical fiction, led by a charge of female characters as captivating and complex as the brightest of botanical flowers -- Cari Thomas

Enchanting and absorbing . . . [I enjoyed it] because it's about women and women's lives, people I know and talk to, and am -- Anstey Harris

There's no enlightenment without enlightening women, and Sara Sheridan gives us two great ones to reckon with in Belle and Elizabeth. The Fair Botanists gives us a glimpse into the complex life of Edinburgh in the 1820's with joyous female characters at the heart of the story -- Annie Garthwaite

Impressively researched, The Fair Botanists weaves incredible fact - the transfer of the Botanic Gardens to a new site and the incredible journey of the trees across the city, and the much-anticipated flowering of the century aloe - with the intricately-plotted loves and fortunes of Belle, a forward-thinking courtesan and perfume maker, and Elizabeth, a widow who steps out of the shadows of her unhappy marriage to learn her own worth. -- Claire Gradidge


Among the real life characters you meet in The Fair Botanists, botanist Henrietta Liston has a lovely cameo role. Lady Liston returned from her residency in the Ottoman Empire to Edinburgh society in the winter of 1821. Follow the link below the portrait and read how Sara Sheridan imagined Henrietta's meeting with one of the heroines of her novel, Belle Brodie.




Sara Sheridan is an Edinburgh-based novelist who writes cosy crime noir mysteries set in 1950s Brighton and historical novels based on the real-life stories of late Georgian and early Victorian explorers. She has also written for children – her picture book I’m Me has appeared on CBeebies three times – and occasionally takes on commercial non-fiction project including  writing the companion guide to the ITV series, Victoria: Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair (2017) and  Sanditon (2019).

Visit Sara Sheridan’s Official Website

Read my interview with Sara at My Jane Austen Book Club

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