I had the great pleasure of reading The Abyss, the 18th book in Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s Morland Dynasty series, while on the train to and from York. This was especially significant because the major historical event covered is this book is the building of the first railway into York. Might the very line I was on be the line that the fictional Benedict Morland was involved in establishing? I also read about Nicholas Morland’s wedding at York Minster on the very day that I visited York Minster. Talk about wonderful location reading!
Even without the great locational synchronicity, this was a great addition to the Morland series. I’ve found the series to be at its best when it focuses on one or two historical events or family dramas. Because the family is so large and has, over the generations, become so spread out geographically, the books can get a bit busy with the need to cover developments in the several lines. Every now and then, a branch disappears from the overall story, and that is as it should be, as families do not always maintain ties after several generations apart. By the end of the last book, The Poison Tree, time, distance, and cholera had significantly reduced the Morland family’s numbers, and this book dwells entirely on the two remaining sons: Nicholas and Benedict.
In Nicholas, we have a Gothic anti-hero whose wicked tendencies are putting him in the power of an even more wicked man. Nicholas is almost a complete villain, but there were moments when I hoped that he would take a Rochester-like turn, although I feared he would descend into Heathcliff-esque madness and evil. Either way, the drama surrounding him, his wife, and his ward made for good reading.
Benedict’s story is rather more complicated. He’s depicted throughout as the good son, but he makes some choices about his romantic involvements early on that made it impossible for me to be totally on his side. His story had the potential to be beautifully romantic, but it became an anti-romance in which it becomes clear that infatuation is not the same thing as love, and a good relationship requires a true understanding of one’s partner, not just fascination and lust. Harrod-Eagles has done a nice job throughout the series of showing the different ways romances can go, and I liked the way this story developed. But Benedict did make me grumble. I’m just hoping he has the chance to make better choices in the next book, The Hidden Shore.