This book is number eleven in a series of twelve, so there is a risk of spoilers of many books in reviewing it, but it is such I brilliant book I thought that I would take the risk. If I am honest, I found books nine and ten (“The Miller’s Dance” and “The Loving Cup” respectively) good and readable, but it is this novel which really had me gripped. Not many books literally keep me awake because I must read more, but this one did on more than one occasion. A big book in every sense, it maintains suspense and yet carries multiple storylines so effortlessly that it is a great read.
Time has passed, children have grown and are now in the midst of their own relationships. George is becoming accustomed to being a married man again, but finds that his wife and son can still surprise him in various ways. As always, his suspicions and grudges are affecting his business decisions, and not always for the better. Clowance is not always finding her husband easy to predict or live with, but always challenging. Jeremy has achieved much, most of which is beyond his dreams, but has changed from the steam engine obsessed boy to a man of responsibility
The biggest change is to Ross and Demelza as they emerge from the background of the previous books and the fortunes of their children to become the loving couple with attraction to both each other and those that they encounter. Transplanted to France, Demelza rediscovers her adventurous spirit which means that she shines socially despite her lack of language. Ross becomes the man of individual strength and purpose which brings him into conflict with those who are dangerous to cross. This is the essential relationship which powers all of the novels and which flourishes once more in this book. In good and very bad times they cannot be completely separated, and it is probably their story which meant that I enjoyed this book so much.
This book is dominated by a battle which changed the history of France and much of Europe. If the prospect of military action puts you off, this is not the diagrammatic battle of obscure history books; rather the human experience of scrappy action and injury. There is a family tragedy which takes the breath away, but it serves to remind the reader that life in the early nineteenth century was often brutal and short. Not the most cheerful of the novels, but intense and ultimately hopeful.
This book is a dazzling display of narration and suspense. In a series of novels written over decades, the emphasis has changed several times and while all the books are readable and enjoyable, it is as if Graham was keen to give a renewed focus to Ross and Demelza in the context of their family and it is this element which gives the book its standout quality. It is intense and memorable, and probably the best of the later books in the series.
If you are addicted to the tv series, and finding the whole idea of reading all the books a little overwhelming, or if you are part way through the series of books and flagging a little, this novel alone is a great reason to keep going!