The Princeling, Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
In the third book of the epic Morland family saga, Elizabeth I is on the throne and the very Catholic Morlands are having to adapt to the Protestant wave sweeping over England. Having not read the second book yet (oops) I was afraid I might be missing some vital points in the family story but I found I had no problem understanding where the family was at this point. That being said there were a few family issues that I think I would have understood better if I had read the second book in the series but I can still say that its not completely necessary to read all the books to keep up with the family.
The novel covers many years, starting at the beginning of Elizabeth I's reign. Being Catholic, many of the Morlands have issues with the New Religion that has come to England and that ends up causing some problems as some family members are more open to the new ideas. As in the first book, the issue of continuing the Morland name, power, and estate is the main thread that flows through the story and you see various matches and marriages made (or attempted) in order to secure the family fortune. Throughout all the dynasty issues the Morlands have various interactions with the English and Scottish courts, thus throwing them into the dangerous politics of the time.
This was a good read but I have to be honest when I say I enjoyed the first novel much better. To me, the characters here just were not as interesting or engaging as the original Morlands and I found that I really didn't care what happened to most of them. I liked the "matriarch" in this novel, Nanette, even though her own storyline wasn't really all that exciting. The entire situation involving the heir, John, and his time in Northumberland just seemed a bit far fetched and a bit unbelievable to me. Then there is the big mystery surrounding the birth of Nanette's adopted son, Jan, which is never entirely made clear for the reader (though you can pretty much figure it out by the end of the story). I actually liked Jan throughout most of the story, until he let his greedy wife Mary talk him into trying to steal the Morland inheritance. As for the rest of the family, they all kind of blend together (with a couple of exceptions), nothing really setting them apart or making their individual story lines that interesting. There is also more than one storyline that just seems way too far fetched for me. The surrounding historical parts of the story were not very attention grabbing either (though compared to the highly volatile Wars of the Roses that is the backdrop of the first novel, most will pale in comparison!). In the first novel the family's fortune and success was intimately tied with the monarch and so the historical part of the story and the fictional, family part of the story were closely entwined. You don't get that feeling in this novel. While the family is concerned what a new Protestant Queen will mean for their business and future, you just don't get the feeling that the two are closely connected. Perhaps if we had seen more of the family involved with the Queen and the interesting events at court there would have been more excitement to the story. One thing I did enjoy about this novel was how uncertain the family's future was; at some points it looked like the family dynasty was going to end. Of course we know it doesn't end (or there wouldn't be over thirty more books in the family series!) but it does add some nice tension to the story which keeps it from being somewhat boring.
It may sound like I didn't like this novel but I did enjoy my read and if I hadn't read the first novel (which I think was really wonderful) I most likely would not have had any issues with anything in this story. It was an easy and fast read and I am certainly still interested in reading on about this family and seeing how they evolve as England evolves and changes around them. I would recommend this novel to any readers but be warned: you will most likely not be able to just read one book about this family!
*Thank you to Sourcebooks for the advanced readers copy to review.