It’s 1914, and the Morlands are off to war. The 28th of Cynthia Harrod-Eagles Morland Dynasty novels traces the first several months of the war, ending right at the start of 1915. Harrod-Eagles excels at battlefield narratives, and she makes great use of her talents here.
Two of the Morland men are among the earliest soldiers to join the fight that they fully expect will be over by Christmas. As a reservist, Bertie is in the trenches, marching from place to place until he’s beyond exhaustion, and watching man after man fall to his death. Jack is in the brand-new Royal Flying Corps, where he experiences greater comfort than his cousin on a day-to-day basis but ends up facing his own perils in the air. The combination of these two men’s perspectives gives readers an on-the-ground view as well as the big picture. It works remarkably well.
Of course, the home front is not neglected. It doesn’t take long for almost all the Morland men to decide to join up, and normal life grinds almost to a halt as servants and plant employees leave for war. The women are left to join the frenzy of war work. The Morland women are generally sensible enough not to get caught up in the competition to see who’s doing the most and the best work, but they are eager to do their bit in some way. Almost every aspect of life is touched by the war, if not consumed by it. That, to me, was one of the most striking things about this book—seeing people put aside everything they’ve been doing and diverting all their energy to this one thing.
Although I love how this series takes in so many different bits and pieces of British history, I think Cynthia Harrod-Eagles is at her best when she focuses on just one or two things in each book. The war provides that kind of focus, as it involves almost every character in some way. She doesn’t have to leave anyone out (although the London Morlands don’t get much attention), but the narrative doesn’t feel at all scattered. Almost all of the remaining books in the series will be about World War I, so I’m optimistic that the rest of the series will show Harrod-Eagles at her best.