The Tangled Thread,the tenth book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s long-running Morland Dynasty series, finds Jemima Morland and her children living in relative peace in England. Jemima’s main worry is whether any of her unconventional children will ever find and marry a suitable spouse. When the inheritance of an estate as large as Morland Place is at state, this is no small matter. Jemima, however, is not one to force her children into anything; gentle nudges are more her style.
With Morland Place reasonably free of high drama, this book focuses more on the unacknowledged French branch of the family tree, Henri-Marie Fitzjames Stuart and his daughter, Héloïse. Henri-Marie gets caught up in the events of the French Revolution and often finds his life to be in danger as the political tides shift one way and then another.
I must confess that before reading this book, I knew very little about the French Revolution. I knew it was violent, but some of the descriptions of the Reign of Terror under Robespierre were shocking. Once again, Harrod-Eagles has made the learning of the basics of history almost completely effortless. One of the best things about this series is how it’s helping me to fill in some of the gaps of my historical knowledge. I don’t necessarily want or need to know all the names and understand all the details, but through these books, I’m getting a better sense of the times.
The characters in this book continue to impress me with their variety of perspectives and attitudes. True, Harrod-Eagles populates her books with more spunky independent women than you might find in a typical English family in the late eighteenth century, but they’re spunky in different ways and sometimes surprisingly conventional. This book introduces Lucy Morland, who flouts convention in quite a dramatic way. This particular twist would strain credulity, but Harrod-Eagles points out in her foreword that there is documented evidence of women doing exactly what Lucy did.
I do feel that I must register one rather serious complaint about this particular book regarding the back cover copy. The summary gives away several plot developments that do not even occur until the final fourth of the book. These are not historical events, mind you, but developments regarding the Morlands’ lives. Harrod-Eagles builds a fair bit of tension regarding the fate of certain characters, but I couldn’t feel that tension when I knew what the outcome would be. Bad, bad form!