The Founding, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
After seeing this series mentioned on several blogs I finally decided to give it a shot; the first novel in this mammoth series is, after all, covering the Wars of the Roses, one of my favorite time periods. The series, which has 33-34 novels to date, covers the Morland family and shows them involved in various events throughout British history. This first book, aptly called The Founding introduces us to the first members of the family and shows us how they became wealthy and successful.
This was a rather fast moving story that covered events in the lives of the early Morlands from the 1430s up to Richard III's defeat at the Battle of Bosworth. There were some rather large gaps of time in between some chapters and that could throw some readers off but as the author was trying to fit quite a bit of story into a specific time frame, it is understandable. The various members of this family are shown at home, involved with the family sheep business, and at the Court of the various reigning Kings of England and their plot line is tightly entwined with the fortunes of these various Kings. The family is fiercely loyal to the Yorkist cause (thanks to Eleanor) and this greatly influences many of their actions and decisions. The author also has her opinions on events and people of this turbulent time period and some of that certainly shows in her writing. This is a fairly lengthy novel with many characters but I really didn't get a feel for any of them; there didn't seem to be much depth to most of them. Most of the characters were likable enough and I could find some sympathy for them but their individual personalities, their various motives, weren't really delved into too deeply. Eleanor is the one exception.
Eleanor is appalled at being forced to marry a mere "sheep farmer"; she is, after all, secretly in love with Richard, Duke of York.
This blurb from the back cover of the novel really nails Eleanor's personality. She is an orphan and a ward of the Beaufort family but has a very high opinion of herself. I really was not that fond of her, though there were some times where she was a bit more endearing. Throughout at least half the novel she is wrapped in this "holier than thou" attitude towards her husband, his family, and their business. She does eventually embrace her new life and helps them become very successful. Her "holier than thou" attitude then focuses on her children and grandchildren, expecting them to make wonderful and socially acceptable marriages. Her overbearing, domineering (and sometimes snobbish) ways do cause quite a bit of friction through the story. You have to admire her because she is such a strong and determined person (which is mentioned over and over and over) but at the same time she gets incredibly annoying sometimes with her bossiness and snobbishness.
All in all I enjoyed this novel, though I was not blown away by it. I always enjoy a new look at one of my favorite time periods and the characters were engaging enough that I do plan on reading further into this historical saga. Some readers could probably be irked at some of her historical "facts" but this is historical fiction so there is always going to be tweaks by the author to suite the story they are telling. While I enjoyed the overall novel there were bits and pieces that frustrated me (Eleanor being one of them), hence my 3.5/4 rating. I believe most readers will enjoy this story but be warned that you will most likely be sucked into the lives of the Morlands and feel compelled to see how they fair throughout the reign of the Tudors and beyond. I know I am!