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Apr 2, 2010

Book Review: The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (Book #1 Morland Dynasty)
Product ISBN: 9781402238154
Price: $14.99
Sourcebooks Publication Date: April 2010
Originally published by Sphere 1980
Review copy provided by Sourcebooks
The Burton Review Rating:Three and a Half Stars

Seeking power and prestige, grim, ambitious Yorkshireman Edward Morland arranges a marriage between his meek son Robert and spirited Eleanor, young ward of the influential Beaufort family. Eleanor is appalled at being forced to marry a mere “sheep farmer”; she is, after all, secretly in love with Richard, Duke of York.

Yet from this apparently ill-matched union, Robert and Eleanor form a surprising connection that soon will be tested by a bloody civil war that divides families, sets neighbor against neighbor, and brings tragedy close to home.
The Founding is a novel that Cynthia Harrod-Eagles wrote in 1980, originally intended to be a twelve volume series written by two writers. Which would have already been a large task, but somehow it turned into one writer penning all thirty-four novels (the thirty-fourth will be published in November 2010 by Sphere). Sourcebooks is now reissuing some of the earlier novels, such as this first book that starts in 1434 in England. The fictional Morland Dynasty is now the longest-running historical family saga ever, which follows the Morlands for over 500 years of their history.

Eleanor Courteney was a ward of a nobleman and fancied herself married to a nobleman one day. But she was with no dowry, so she was going to have to accept a lower standard and was forced to do so when she married into the Morland dynasty. The Morlands were not of the same group that Eleanor would have preferred, but they were known for their riches as they were successful sheep farmers. Eleanor was portrayed as haughty and materialistic, as she not so quietly put up with her father-in-law until he passed, and when he did she set to work on her weaker-minded husband as to how to raise a gentleman's household. I did not feel very sorry for Eleanor, she was a bit sarcastic and snide, and even the word sarcastic was used a bit too much throughout the novel.

The story is very much a family saga epic style that I truly enjoy, and the one setback for me was Eleanor. As the main protagonist, I did not empathize with her much, as she continually disappointed me until the very end. Her children came and went and I did not feel as close to them as I wanted to either. I could not get my head totally absorbed in the characters, perhaps because there were so many. Yet, the whole package of the story set against the backdrop of the Wars of the Roses was very cleverly done and is what propelled me through. The Wars of the Roses is one of my most favorite periods to read about, and I always enjoy reading another view point.

Of course, this is truly fictional with the fictional Morlands being inserted at opportune times to be able to tell what is going on behind closed political doors, and of course Eleanor was very close to certain members, such as Richard Plantagenet, father to King Edward IV, and later her son/grandson/(I lost track) was also in service to the next king Richard. I was most happy when the history part came in to being within the writing, and less so when it was all about Eleanor. (Think "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!!" but replace that with Eleanor). Eleanor is strongly Yorkist, therefore the book is very pro-Ricardian and prejudiced against the Lancastrians. While I try not to stand too strongly in one camp, I do have respect for the Tudors, who are Lancastrian. There are mentions of the "vain-glorious and weak-headed Buckingham" and Henry Tidr (aka Henry VII) and the scoffing at Tidr wanting to change the spelling of his name to Tudor. Another favorite historical topic of mine deals with the missing princes in the tower, which was totally not accurately portrayed; along with many of the other historical details, but this issue could easily be overlooked by those who are simply enjoying the story of a family's journey.

Along with Eleanor there are many children. There were births of those children, marriages, births of children to those children, and deaths. There had to be a few left standing though, in order for the next 33 books to be able to be called the Morland Dynasty. There are family trees in the beginning of each book that pertain to that particular branch and book, and you can also find them on the author's website. I was having trouble keeping up with the kids and the kids of the kids and who belonged to who which is why the family trees come in handy, and I had to consult them often. I hated noticing the date of death for each person because then I knew what was going to happen. To top all that off, one kid was called either Thom or Thorn depending on what time of the day it was and I kept re-reading it to see if I had misread it. Turns out after I wrote this review that the name was supposed to be Thom but the ARC I had was wrong.

But through it all, although this is not a heart wrenching, tear jerking, literary masterpiece, I still enjoyed the story. I think if Eleanor was a bit more likable it would have reflected on the rest of the book for me as well. I have not given up though, as I have Book #2: The Dark Rose waiting in the wings for June 2010. The next one deals with Henry VIII's times and I look forward to the the point of view of that time period, and sincerely hope that the protagonist there is someone after my own heart. I think moving away from the matriarch Eleanor and from my favorite Wars of the Roses topic, there is still hope for me with the series since I did enjoy the writing style very much and I am a fan of historical sagas. I have seen many many many many much more gushing positive reviews than my opinion here (I spelled out all the knit-picky things here which I normally don't do) so I think I am the minority of those who did not absolutely adore the book. But, it must be said the ending did end well enough that I was deeply touched and the ending helped redeem the entirety of the novel for me. The novel did its job of keeping me entertained throughout, and I would recommend this for those who enjoy family sagas set against a historical theme.

Coincidentally, official publication dates that coincide with the April 1, 2010 reissue date for book #1 include:
The Fallen Kings (Book 32 Morland Dynasty) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (Hardcover - Apr. 1, 2010)
The Foreign Field (Book 31 Morland Dynasty) by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles (Paperback - Apr. 1, 2010)

Sphere is a UK publisher and these books will be available in the US and UK following the links.

See another review at Passages to the Past

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