The Winter Journey (Morland Dynasty #20)

Medicine, marriage, and the military. These are the central historical developments that fill Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s 20th Morland Dynasty novel. The Winter Journey begins in 1851, with the central characters from The Hidden Shore coping with marriage and/or parenthood; some happily, and others not so happily. Charlotte has more or less taken over the role of principal Morland heroine, but Fanny and Mary get some attention, as does Benedict, Rosamund, and Lucy.

The focus on Charlotte means that much of the action takes place in London, rather than in Yorkshire, but Charlotte’s charitable activities allow readers to step outside the world of the rich and see a different side of London. This is, I believe, one of the advantages that the historical fiction author has over authors from the actual period. Yes, Victorian novelists wrote about the poor, often with great compassion and insight, but it would have been less than respectable for them to write in such detail about the living conditions of the poor. Harrod-Eagles and other historical fiction authors do not face such limitations. The trick, however, is to write with such detail without seeming to take a superior attitude—without saying “look how frank I can be because I’m not a repressed Victorian.” Harrod-Eagles walks that line beautifully. I’ve been continually impressed with how she shows the limitations of various mind-sets of the past without adopting a sense of “presentism” in which today’s attitudes are always to be preferred. Every era has strengths and weaknesses, and Harrod-Eagles seems to understand that. It’s one of the things that makes this series so good.

Besides Charlotte’s charitable work, which focuses on medical reform and advances and allows her to cross paths with Florence Nightingale, the book also looks at the power dynamics between husbands and wives, mostly though the eyes of Fanny. The last half of the book takes several characters to Russia for the Crimean War and the charge of the light brigade. As always, Harrod-Eagles does a wonderful job writing battle scenes, and the details about the field hospitals and the horrifying winter the soldiers faced in the Crimea made for gripping reading.

Another interesting development included the return of a long-lost relative from the American branch of the family. I suspect that Harrod-Eagles is laying the groundwork for a glimpse of the U.S. Civil War, and I’m eager to see how she handles it. I’m hoping to find out next month, when I read the 21st book in the series, The Outcast.

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