Another month, another Morland Dynasty book. The series is an ambitious effort by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles to trace the history of England through the eyes of one fictional Yorkshire family. With The Devil’s Horse, I’m now halfway through the series as it stands now (although two more books are in the works). Although I’ve enjoyed the whole series so far, the last two books were the strongest yet. This book doesn’t quite stand up to those two, but it’s still a good read.
The novel opens in 1820, and it focuses on the factory system and the dawning of the railroad era. Some of the Morlands get caught up in the efforts to reform the factories, but not everyone is equally enthusiastic. The reforming Morlands must choose between maintaining their high ideals for the workers and settling for what they can get. Is it better, for example, to have roomy houses or to build more of them? Another area of conflict that is just starting to raise its head is over the railroads. The older Morlands can’t see why anyone would choose to build a railroad when horses can do the job of hauling so well. But one of the younger Morlands is a railroad enthusiast. I wonder what will happen if the railroad ever wants to come through Morland land.
As always, the Morland family drama gets a lot of attention, and in The Devil’s Horse, most of that drama is only tangentially related to the history, which is probably why I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the previous two volumes. I think the books are at their best when the historical drama and the family drama are intertwined. That’s not to say, however, that the family’s story didn’t hold my interest here. It did! I mourned over Rosamund’s tragedy and winced in horror at Nicholas’s actions. Nicholas, one of the youngest Morlands, has the potential to be one of the most interesting characters yet, and I really want to see what he does next. Harrod-Eagles does not insist on making all the Morlands heroic or even likable—some of them are downright villainous—and that, for me, is one of the joys of the series.