In my last post about the Morland Dynasty by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles, I mentioned that the books are getting better and better. With The Reckoning, the 15th book in the 32-book (so far) series, the trend has continued. I’d have a hard time choosing between this one and #14, The Campaigners, as my favorite because they are both wonderful reads in different ways. The Campaigners was a terrific war novel, but The Reckoning shows that peace is not necessarily peaceful.
I’m going to keep this review brief, because I know a few of you are reading the series and don’t want to be spoiled, and if my monthly Morland posts haven’t convinced you to start the series, you’re probably also tired of hearing about it. So I’ll just give a brief overview.
The Reckoning begins in 1816, and England is suffering from an economic slump so dire that Morlands must consider selling off some of their property. Complicating the issue is the movement toward providing better working and living conditions for factory workers. Generational conflicts come into play here as the younger Morlands believe that the poor deserve a better life, and the older Morlands believe that the reform programs would be too intrusive, taking liberty away from both owners and workers. This is where one of Harrod-Eagles’s greatest strengths as a historical fiction author comes through. Modern readers have never known a time when child labor was acceptable, but Harrod-Eagles allows some of the best, most appealing characters express support for child labor—and she doesn’t turn them into villains to do it. Their explanations actually make a certain amount of sense, and one can see why a kind, compassionate person would hold such a wrong-headed point of view.
The book includes a lovely romance as well as a soapy gothic melodrama, and both kept me in suspense. There’s also a story of marriage going awry, with a Morland woman making some shocking choices to remain free of domestic duties. I thought for a time that we were getting another Annunciata, who I thoroughly disliked for her selfishness, but Harrod-Eagles’s characterization is getting more complex as the books go on, and I sympathized even as I shuddered. I think the slower pace that she adopted after the first 10 or so novels has helped make this depth possible.
I’m already looking forward to seeing how the characters and their relationships develop in the next book, The Devil’s Horse, which I intend to read sometime in February.