I hardly know how to say this, but I am out of Morland Dynasty books! I’ve spent almost three years reading one book each month from Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’s historical series, and now I’m nearing the end and have no more to read until November, when the penultimate book, The Dancing Years, is released in paperback. And then I’ll have to wait who knows how long until the final book, The Winding Road, is available in paperback. (Although if The Dancing Years comes to the breathless conclusion that The Fallen Kings did, I may find that I need to splurge on the hardcover—also publishing this November—and be done with it.)
The Fallen Kings is set in 1918. World War I is still taking the Morland men, one after the other. The women are serving overseas, doing war work at home, and fretting about or grieving for the men they love. That’s not to say that everything that happens in this book is centered on the war, but everything seems related to it somehow. For instance, the rise in spiritualism, which Violet takes an interest in, seems to draw on the desire of the grieving to connect with their lost loved ones. The granting of suffrage for women over 30 gets scant attention, especially when you consider how important the struggle for suffrage was in earlier books. But in the midst of all this death and near-death, the brief nature of the celebration is understandable. The Spanish influenza pandemic brings even more death to the Morlands, and the spirits are low within the family.
Even the birth of a new baby into the family comes with a twist of pain, as the couple only married just before the birth, and not all in the family wholly approve of it. They do, however, learn to set aside their indignation and offer love and support to the new parents, as the Morlands have almost always done. I continue to be impressed with how Cynthia Harrod-Eagles navigates the tensions between the generations as expectations and social morays evolve.
The book is busy with plot, and most of it is interesting. I must confess to feeling a little war-weary myself, thanks to Harrod-Eagles’s decision to take readers through World War I one year at a time. But this slower pace certainly gave me more of a sense of how interminable the war might have seemed for the people living through it than a whirlwind approach over one or two books might have.
The bigger problem I had with this otherwise strong addition to the series is Harrod-Eagles’ over-reliance on convenient deaths to advance the central romances. It’s a trivial thing in comparison to everything else she does well, but that doesn’t stop it from being frustrating. And there’s a particularly egregious example in this book—one of the first times I got downright angry at the easy out she gave her characters. However, the ending of the novel caused me to forgive her entirely. Something I’d been half expecting for the last three volumes but had finally dismissed as unlikely actually happened—and it happened in such a devastating, morally complex manner that I cannot wait to see what happens next. Absolutely cannot wait, but I will wait until November.
In the meantime, I may finally feed my addiction to long historical series my finally delving into Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series. (I can hear Jenny’s whoop of joy now! It only took, what, 10 years of persuasion?)