Top positive review
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Strikingly different from the usual historical novel
on 2 March 2008
Like the other reviewers here, I found this novel strikes out for itself in new directions. When so many historical novels are simply 'history' dressed up in doublets and hose, with characters taking up far less room than events, this is a genuine novel with a story of its own to tell that happens to be set in the C18th.
It is a novel of three parts, which don't necessarily always sit well together: but they do keep the pages turning.
I partly agree with the reviewer below who gave it three stars because s/he disliked the 3rd part as being out of keeping with a 'romance', but am not sure that the book ever sets itself up to be a romantic story, and certainly not in the happy-ever-after mode (although there is an element of that too...). I found the 3rd part less compelling than the other two partly because of the change of scene (mining town in Northumberland) and partly because the other characters who are so lively and important start to fade. I also wasn't completely convinced by the love interest, but that's always personal taste.
However that is a minor quibble. Makepeace is a fabulous character with a dry wit and sense of humour that Norman catches perfectly. Her first husband is also wonderful, and the relationship between then drawn with such a light and yet perceptive hand that knocks spots off all the usual rather florid descriptions of passionate love.
Altogether this is an entertaining and well-written novel that wears its research very lightly and which treads relatively untouched ground in terms of historical fiction (anyone else bored to death with the Tudors?!). There are two sequels, Taking Liberties and The Sparks Fly Upward both of which I have bought having finished this. Highly recommended.