Sea battles, cholera, illegitimate children, and a love that dare not speak its name. These are the elements that bring the drama to the 12th book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s ambitious Morland Dynasty series. This book covers some of the action at sea during the Napoleonic Wars, as one of the men of the family and a close associate take part in the Battle of Trafalgar. Another character works with the poor factory workers in Manchester. And all of the characters must navigate treacherous relationships, some forbidden and therefore fraught with drama, and others built on shaky grounds of convenience or economics.
Although many of the Morlands are forward-thinking people, this book makes it evident that they will brook no changes at Morland Place itself, particularly if those changes come from an outsider. If a woman marries into the Morland family, she’d better be willing to accept how things are done. It’s interesting to see this attitude in a family where so many of the women are progressive thinkers who flout society’s conventions. It seems that only woman of Morland blood are worthy of such liberty. This has been evident in all the books to some degree, but this was the first book where I got outright angry about it. In this book, Mary Ann, the mistress of Morland Place, is a lovely person whom the Morlands never give a fair shake. And then the plot takes a turn that felt a bit too convenient. Still, I think that my outrage shows that Harrod-Eagles is wonderful at getting readers invested in the characters. For the most part, I wasn’t outraged at the author but at the characters who were acting badly.
The slower pace of the novels has made it easier to become invested in more of the characters. In the earlier books, there might have been one or two people who got a large amount of attention in more than one book, but as the series has gone on, Harrod-Eagles has been giving herself time to develop more characters and carry their stories through multiple books, instead of just focusing on one principal woman. That’s been a welcome change, especially because some of the main women have been hard to like.
It’s also been nice to see that there haven’t been huge leaps across swathes of history between books. I was disappointed to miss out on Oliver Cromwell and on the Great Fire of London because they fell in the gaps between books, but that’s becoming less of a problem. From what I can tell, the slower pace will be the norm for the rest of the series. That makes it more enjoyable for me, but I think it also makes it more important to read in order because the books don’t reboot to a new generation as often.
This wasn’t my favorite book in the series, but it’s a strong contribution nonetheless. I’m looking forward to The Regency, which will continue the Napoleonic War story and delve into the Industrial Revolution. I imagine we’ll also see a new Morland woman, the manipulative Fanny, start to come into her own.