The Winding Road, the 34th book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ Morland Dynasty series, was supposed to be the final book in the series when it was published in 2011. The author wanted to continue, following the family into the 1930s and beyond, but her publisher did not continue her contract. Now, however, the series rises from the ashes with the suitably titled The Phoenix.
The novel begins in 1931, shortly after Polly Morland’s purchase of Morland Place, and ends with the death of George V in 1936. The Morland family spread across England and even around the world, and the story moves quickly from one branch of the family to another. Young widow Polly is learning to be the mistress of Morland Place and wondering whether she’ll ever find a partner to love. Lennie, who once sought Polly’s affections, is still in America, dabbling in politics and managing the film career of Rose Morland. Polly’s brother James is taking advantage of his freedom from ownership of Morland Place and traveling the world. As his wife’s urging, Jack gives up flying to take a position in aircraft design, and as the industry evolves, his work takes him and his family all over England. In London, Charlotte asks to go to secretarial school so that she’ll have a way to be independent and earn some money, now that her family’s financial status has become less secure. Her mother, Violet, is resistant, wishing things could be as they always were, but with a loving man to take care of her and her family, instead of the stern husband she once had. Emma and Kit are drawn into the social circle of the Duke of Wales and Wallis Simpson, whose relationship they observe with morbid fascination.
I was worried initially that the almost three years between my reading of the previous book and this one would make this book too confusing. But Harrod-Eagles provides enough details about the characters’ backgrounds to remind me of who they were. It’s not always easy to recall the characters’ connections to each other. The family trees at the start of the book are helpful, but it’s generally not necessary to know their precise relationships to follow the story.
As for the characters’ stories, they’re interesting enough, but the book’s appeal is really in the way history touches the characters. There are some characters I like and root for—in this book, Charlotte was my favorite—but mostly I enjoy seeing how changing times bring changes to the family and how the generations rub up against each other as ideas about life change. Charlotte and Violet’s conflict over her decision to seek a job rather than a husband is a good example of this.
The series has always included a lot of romance, which I sometimes enjoy and sometimes don’t. In this book, the romances tend toward the unsatisfying, but they’re not the focus here. We see a few people fall in love and a few crushes that don’t pan out. We also see an inconvenient spouse get killed off, presumably to set up a romance in the next book. (I am so tired of this happening again and again in this series. No one should ever marry a Morland who has some other “great true love” out there. Even if it’s a good marriage, it’ll end in death.) One marriage announcement of a side character toward the end of the book could be a set up for conflict in the next, but wish we’d seen the courtship.
I’m glad to see the series return because I do enjoy it. The ambition of it impresses me, and I like the way it approaches history, even when I roll my eyes at the characters and the way their stories develop. The next books should be particularly exciting history-wise as the abdication of Edward VIII and the run-up to World War II become the focus.