Book review: The Phoenix by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Phoenix by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
The Phoenix by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Five hundred years of history and a cast of thousands ... the much-anticipated 35th book in the addictive Morland Dynasty series has just hit the shelves.

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles began her Morland marathon over 30 years ago when she published The Founding and introduced a family whose fortunes we have followed from the Wars of the Roses to the opening decades of the 20th century.

The family, originally from York, has burgeoned both at home and abroad since sheep farmer’s son Robert Morland married Eleanor Courtney, the wealthy ward of the influential Lord Edmund Beaufort, in 1434.

The secret of the books’ overwhelming success has been not just the continuity of witnessing one family evolve over the centuries but the fascinating perspective it has given on English life.

We have watched generations of Morlands live through war and peace, political upheaval and social revolution, times of pestilence and periods of plenty.

Through a rich tapestry of events, some routine and others momentous, they have experienced love and passion, envy and betrayal, births and deaths, great fortune and miserable penury.

The Phoenix takes readers on a thrilling journey through the turbulent years from 1931 to 1936 as the diverse Morland clan negotiate their own small world as well as the tumultuous events and scandals on the national and international stage.

In 1931, countries on both sides of the Atlantic are still reeling from the aftermath of the Wall Street Crash. Polly Morland has returned to Morland Place to save it from financial ruin but her plans for change meet with resistance and she must prove her mettle in a man’s world.

Jack, war hero and family man, knows that he must make a change for the sake of those he holds dear so when an opportunity arises that would take him back to York, he seizes it with both hands.

In London, Robert is bored with his office job and seeks something grander. Fatherless and dealing with the repercussions of his family’s bankruptcy, he must make his own way now that he has been left to the mercy of a cruel world.

His sister Charlotte, who is also frustrated with her life and sure that she will never receive an offer of marriage, longs for something different as well.

As the years roll by, the threat of another war hangs in the air and when the new King Edward VIII takes the throne, the country seems to be on the brink of change again.

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, the Morlands prove yet again that they will emerge from whatever they must face stronger than ever before…

Harrod-Eagles always provides sound historical background to her novels, deftly intertwining the domestic with the social and political.

Beautifully observed and full of characters whose lives reflect the events and concerns of the period, The Phoenix is a compelling stand-alone story as well as another enthralling chapter in the amazing Morland saga.

(Sphere, paperback, £8.99)