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Jun 24, 2010

Book Review/Giveaway: The Dark Rose: Book Two in The Morland Dynasty Series by Cynthia Harrod Eagles

The Dark Rose: Book Two in The Morland Dynasty Series by Cynthia Harrod Eagles
Several publishers since 1981
isbn13: 978-1402238161
Reissued in July 2010 by Sourcebooks
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you!
The Burton Review Rating:

The second book in the epic bestselling Morland Dynasty series which spans from the Wars of the Roses to Queen Victoria's long reign into the courts of kings and the salons of the Regency, onto the battlefields of Culloden and the Crimea, and beyond:

In The Dark Rose, the turbulence of Henry VIII's reign brings passion and pain to the Morlands as they achieve ever greater wealth and prestige. Paul, great-grandson of Eleanor Morland, has inherited the Morland estates, and his own Amyas is set to be his heir. But Paul fathers a beloved illegitimate son, and bitter jealousy causes a destructive rift between the two half-brothers which will lead to death. Through birth and death, love and hatred, triumph and heartbreak, the Morlands continue proudly to claim their place amongst England's aristocracy.

I read book one, The Founding, in the Morland series, and found it to be an interesting enough novel to merit reading book number two. Especially since this book two, The Dark Rose, is set against the backdrop of the Tudor era which is my absolute most favorite era and of which I have read about nineteen Tudor themed books in the last year alone. So, I am a stickler for certain things regarding the Tudors. On sentence two of the foreword I was surprised to read that the author believed Henry VIII "had only two mistresses", and therefore he has been misjudged. We all know that Henry had a son off of Bessie Blount, and that one mistress was Mary Boleyn. I would count Anne Boleyn as a mistress, it is even possible that Jane Popyncourt was his very first mistress. Mary Shelton was his mistress while Anne was pregnant, and Jane Seymour was later his mistress while Anne was reaching her downfall. Catherine Howard was then his mistress while Henry was married to Anne of Cleves. And I also firmly believe that he had many more mistresses who did not leave blatant evidence of being undoubtedly his mistress. I repeat all this to enforce the point that when Eagles stated unequivocally Henry was not so bad simply because he "only had two mistresses" that she states as fact, she turned me off before I had a chance to begin the fictional story she was about to tell. I suppose I am making a mountain out of a molehill but that's how it began for me. There are more inaccuracies about small facts that the casual reader may not be aware of throughout the novel, but I was.

Although the plot line tries to be impressive as it follows along the intrigues of the magnificent Tudor era, the many characters leave a lot to be desired. Focusing on Paul, the head of the Morland estate, Paul despises his wife Anne Butts and he has a child with another woman. Paul despises his half brother Jack and Jack's offspring, yet Jack was extremely well liked at home and at court. Which makes Paul hate Jack more. Which make me hate Paul more. Once Paul's two sons reach majority, Paul's legitimate son Amyras also despises his half bother Adrian. Negativity abounds. In book one, I was not sympathetic to the main character, Eleanor, as she believed herself to superior to everyone and everything. In book two, Paul is the same way, and I was much more interested in the happier members of his extended family off at court then to be reading about Paul and his son fighting about the illegitimate son (who was always off in a corner brooding, with the thick foreshadowing atmosphere that proved itself towards the last half of the novel). Nannette is the next main character focus, and she was a lot more likable until she beds a family member. But that was how it was done back in the day. Cousins married cousins, so that this story helps to perpetuate the dynasty by Morlands marrying cousins twice over.

There were some well written story lines in the story, such as the sickness that overtakes many of the family members in 1517, the witch factor with Paul's lover, and the process of Henry VIII disposing of his first wife. I enjoyed how the birth of Katherine Parr was written in and how the family was friends with the Parrs throughout the story. Then again, there were times the plot could have used a bit more meat to it, but not so much as when Anne Boleyn is friends with Margaret (daughter/cousin to someone in the Morlands, I lost track again) we get to read about Margaret creeping up on Anne while she is sleeping so Margaret could sneak a peek at unsuspecting Anne's Sixth Finger. And then Anne and Henry Percy betroth themselves to each other only to have them banished from court because of it. All of it happened that quickly as I wrote it. Same thing when Paul's son was married: he was married to a member of Norris family, and just as quickly it is mentioned that he had two sons off of her, then mentioned in passing there were two more, etc., because the story at that point had shifted to his cousin Nannette who became a friend of Anne Boleyn so why revert back to Paul? Just as in book one, I really had trouble keeping some of the Morland members straight, as the characters came and went and died and shifted to somewhere else, never giving me a strong sense of just one single character once it shifted from Paul.

It was always interesting to see where the author inserted the fictional Morlands into the genuine families of the Tudor era. And I don't want to come off as being so negative about this book, because it really wasn't that bad, it is just that the characters are written in such negative lights that it is impossible for me to not come off as negative as well. For example, the following train of thought of Paul's son, Amyas:
His father was nearing fifty, Amyas thought, and evidently did not mean to marry again. What use was his life to him? Once Paul was out of the way, he, Amyas, would change things, put things on a more modern footing, shew the tenants who was master! Paul, in clinging on to his useless life, was being inconsiderate.

{Shew was a word back then. After reading the novel, you'll get used to it as it is used many times.} I did want to know more about the characters, but it seems they were always just a bit out of reach for me. There are many, many lovers of the Morland Dynasty series out there so I am very aware that I am in the minority for not totally enjoying the writing, but after two novels of not-so-great characters that I could not empathize with, I am going to bide my time before picking up another. I think if I do get around to continuing with this series I will have a better chance of enjoying it as it moves away from favored eras where I won't be so much in want for more historical accuracy. At least I don't think I would notice errors as much. I also must disclose to you that I am highly aware this is my opinion and reaction to the book, and my thoughts count pretty little in the grand scheme of things. And since there are so many of the fans out there of the Morland Dynasty, I think that those readers who would enjoy a roving family dynasty style of a read, this is top notch in that area. Be forewarned though, the series is a whopping 34 books in the series. So far.

The first two books did not occur in an immediate timeline, as some of the extended family members rapidly expanded between the time of book one and before book two. Therefore this can easily be read as a stand alone book, as those people who are not yet wary of the Tudor stories would enjoy this as it doesn't just focus on the many wives of Henry VIII. There are strong themes of the reformist versus the papist, and the most "royal" attention was given to Anne Boleyn since a main character, Nanette, was her close friend in the story. The political times and the major players of the Tudor era represent most of the story line's backdrop, with the predictable Morlands sitting around the fire talking about the intricate workings of the Tudor court as the Morlands continue to marry within the family.

Read my review of book one in the Morland Dynasty, The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles here.
I am entering this novel in The Tudor Mania Challenge which is ongoing throughout the month of July.
GIVEAWAY... Ends July 2nd.
Comment on this other post... where I had previously announced the Giveaway for both of Cynthia Harrod Eagles' books one and two of The Morland Dynasty. Follow the rules on that post to enter for the drawing.