Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Twisted Sword: The Pentultimate Poldark Novel



I can't believe I'm on the 11th novel in this series, and I never blogged about it. I used to read a lot of historical novels, then I kind of got away from them when I got hooked on mid-century women's fiction. I only started reading the Poldark series after watching the PBS series when it first aired, the summer of 2015 when I was in Outlander withdrawal. I loved the first series which covers the first two novels, and promptly read the first ten books in less than a year. I'm not sure why I stopped there but suspect it had something to do with our big overseas move to Germany the summer of 2016. Our new library didn't have the last two novels, but on a trip to London that summer, I went to three different bookstores to find them -- and promptly left them gathering dust on the TBR shelves until now, prompted by my Big Book Summer Challenge

It is a little hard to get back into a series after a four-year reading gap (some of the supporting characters were a little fuzzy, but my edition thoughtfully included a family tree), but essentially, the book picks up pretty soon after the previous book, in the peace of 1815. Ross and Demelza's older children are grown and married, and Ross gets a summons to help out as an "observer" in France (and gets a baronetcy thrown in for good measure). Ross, Demelza, and the two youngest children head off to Paris, for what seems to be a good time, but that wacky Napoleon escapes from Elba and makes a triumphant return. [Bonus: this book also counts for Paris in July!]


This cover reminds me of a YA fantasy novel. 
Ross is on an assignment and gets separated from Demelza and the children, who flee to Brussels, where she meets up with her oldest son Jeremy and his new bride. Ross gets caught up in the war, so I had another perspective of the Battle of Waterloo, my second this year! But from the Coalition (Allied) side this time. My knowledge of French history is quite fuzzy and I didn't realize that Waterloo actually took place after Napoleon escaped from Elba, shame on me. There are a lot of descriptions of the horrors of war. I have been meaning to read La Debacle, Zola's masterful war novel, this summer, but maybe I'll put it off. 

Nice cover on this edition, I think it's the Polish translation


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Sadly the war doesn't end well for everyone in the book. Meanwhile, back in Cornwall, the eldest Poldark daughter Clowance and her new husband are having money troubles, no thanks in part to George Warleggan. There are also some appearances by George's son Valentine; everyone's favorite doctor, Dwight Enys; and some local color with a pregnant housemaid who may or may not marry a local guy to give her baby a father. 

After a bit of confusion, I settled nicely into this 656 page chapter of the Poldark family, and ended up racing through it in less than a week. It's amazing how fast I started to remember details and characters (though a few are still a bit fuzzy and I've already requested the previous book from the library, so I can skim through it). Winston Graham was really good at creating the world of Cornwall from the time period. I loved most of the good characters and became outraged at the bad ones (George Warleggan has been carrying grudges against the Poldarks for how many years now?)

My only quibble was that the youngest daughter, Isabella Rose, is only THIRTEEN when the book starts and men are already courting her, ewww. I think Graham was setting up the story for the final book which is named after her. It's another 688 pages and I'm sure I will read it with enjoyment and more than a little sadness because the book series is ending. I've watched most of the TV series and unfortunately have gotten really bored with it, I didn't even finish the final season. Maybe I'll have to give it another try after I finish the final novel. I also own another long novel set in Cornwall called Penmarric and I'm looking forward to that one also.

How's everyone else doing with their summer reading? And can anyone recommend another great historical TV series and movies? 

12 comments:

  1. I've often wondered about these books, but their size puts me off! For some reason I thought they were a blend of historical fiction and fantasy, like the Outlander books.

    My understanding of that time period is, that as soon as a girl reached puberty, she was ready to be married off. Being a teenager wasn't a stage of development as we now see it. In 1800 if you lived to be 40 you were doing exceptionally well - you had to cram a lot of adult living into just 25 yrs! Hard to imagine!

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    1. Most of the books aren't that long, around 400 pages. I think the last two are longer because they were published later and Graham was trying to wrap everything up. There's no fantasy, the first novel starts when Ross Poldark returns after the American revolution. It's just a lot of books, Graham started the series in 1945 and finished in 2002!

      And I don't think girls were usually married off that young -- the average is actually around 19 in the 1700s and later in the 1800s. It was very rare for girls to be married off that young, usually royalty and the marriages weren't consummated until later. And many people did live to be old -- it's just that there were so many child deaths, it brings down the average. If you lived past your teens you had a good chance of living a pretty long life, as long as you didn't die in childbirth.

      The daughter Bella isn't married off at 13, she looks older, but the guy hanging around her who's in love with her is about 19. It still makes me uncomfortable.

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  2. I read the first two right after I watched the series. I am not a person who enjoys long books, and I don't do well with series either---I'm a dabbler, I think. But if this book is set in Paris, I might jump ahead (yes, I do that, too) and read it during July. Thanks for giving this book and this series a heads up.

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    1. A good chunk of it is in Paris and France, but I wouldn't say the whole bit. It jumps back and forth to Cornwall and after the war they don't go back to France. So maybe 30% or 40%?

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  3. I've read this series - twice and will probably do so again, they're historically correct too. I have all of the books in a bookcase which is an easy reach from my bedside. I didn't think much of the most recent TV dramatisation though. The original 1975 series is so much better. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0075560/ and Warleggan is as he was described in the book, a bruiser, not a fop! What about Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga? - if you haven't already read it, it's a TV series too.

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    1. I loved The Forsyte Saga and the adaptation -- I've seen the most recent one, but I think there's an earlier version. I also watched the original Poldark series, I liked it but I couldn't stand their version of Demelza, she was so flighty.

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  4. I read all these books after the 1975 series which I loved but maybe I didn't get all the way through; I definitely don't remember this one. As a teen, I remember being very creeped out by the book where the vile minister was peeping through the wall at his wife's (Morwenna?) dreadful sister. You should also read The Walking Stick by Graham, a "contemporary" which was very good.

    Next series - hmmm. North and South is only one book but I recently saw the miniseries for the first time and liked it so much, I suggested my book group read Wives and Daughters this month and then watch the miniseries together (remotely). If you have not read Elswyth Thane's books, I recommend the Williamsburg Novels although most sadly there is no miniseries.

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    1. Oh, I hated the minister SO MUCH! Morwenna's storyline was the worst, right up there with Elizabeth.

      I loved NOrth & South and Wives & Daughters! And Cranford is a delight. I haven't heard of Elswyth Thane but I'll look for them, thanks!

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  5. Wow, congratulations! Just one more book and it is so satisfying to finish off a series. I've only read up to book four but I do plan to continue.

    I think the plan is to film all of the Hilary Mantel Cromwell books (right now only Wolf Hall is out, I think?) but the books are fantastic. I just finished the third one a couple of weeks ago.

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    1. I still haven't tried Hilary Mantel. I tried watching the TV series and could not get into it, maybe it was just the wrong time. I know everyone raves about it. I'll have to try again after I've made some progress on my own shelves!

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  6. I read six of the books, through The Four Swans, and then sort of forgot about the series. I really enjoyed them and was reading on pace with the TV series, but then I lost interest in the TV series as it seemed to get repetitive. I may pick it up again—I like the setting of this last book that you reviewed, and I did enjoy reading about Cornwall.

    Eww is right! Thirteen seems too young for 1815.

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    1. I forgot to mention—my favorite historical series is the Sharon Kay Penman books. I am about to read about the latter half of the lives of Eleanor and HII, and so looking forward to it.

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