Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

Ross Poldark is alive. After having fought in the American Civil War, Ross returns to Cornwall where he discovers his father has died, his estate is neglected by lazy servants and his sweetheart Elizabeth has married his cousin Francis. Not really the warm welcome he had expected. Slowly he tries to rebuild his life. He reopens an old mine and saves a young girl from a dog fight to make her his kitchen maid. Meanwhile, his cousin Verity has fallen in love with captain Blamey, much against the wishes of her family.

I must admit I discovered Winston Graham’s books thanks to the excellent Poldark series on BBC with Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson. I was quite addicted to the series and have watched the five seasons more than once. Leaving behind a gap in my heart when the series stopped, I decided to start the book series. The last four books haven’t been screened and I’m curious how the story of Ross and Demelza will end.

The first book represents the first four episodes of season one. So I knew it would be a slow story and it is. The book is written in 1945 so the ‘older’ writing style makes for no easy read. Especially not since some characters are speaking a kind of Cornish dialect. I was already accustomed to the typical language of Jud & Prudie which made me comprehend the story, but I’m not so sure it will be effortless for newcomers to the story.

This book is full of adventure, humor and romance. Ross is the typical anti-hero. He makes a lot of mistakes and bad decisions but it makes him human and real. I was surprised by how young Demelza is in the first book, her character still needs to develop a bit more to the strong women I know.

But what I like most about the story is that you get an insight in mining and the contrast between the noble ruling class and the poor workers. We’re in the 18th century, so revolution is coming to Europe. There’s also a third class on the rise: new men such as George Warleggan who have become rich by trade and banking but aren’t from noble birth. They struggle at being accepted by the old families. It’s such a great historical setting to start off a series.

I’ll probably continue reading this series and enjoy the storylines, although the first book didn’t make me immediately jump onto the next.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

Bess Bright sells shrimps with her father in the city of London. When she gets pregnant by accident, she has to leave her daughter Clara behind at the Foundling hospital where she will be cared for and learn a trade. Determined to get her daughter back, Bess saves every penny. But when she returns six years later, they tell her that her daughter has already been claimed years ago by herself. The woman who took her even knew about the token she left with Clara, a half heart of whalebone.

A few streets further a woman plagued by a childhood trauma forbids her young daughter Charlotte to leave the house. The only exception is their weekly trip to the chapel where they have a chat with Doctor Mead, a friend of Alexandra’s late husband.

I read Stacey Halls other novel, The Familiars, and I loved it. So it didn’t take me long to read The Foundling also. It’s a total different setting. This story takes us to Georgian London where me meet young Bess who is living with her father and brother in poor circumstances. She has just made the most terrible choice a mother can face: she is going to leave her infant daughter in the care of the Foundling hospital.

At the same time we are introduced to Alexandra, a widowed mother who has all the financial means she needs to take care of her household, her daughter and herself. But there’s one problem: she doesn’t go out, nor does her daughter. They only leave their house by carriage on Sundays to attend mass at the chapel only a few streets further. A long-time friend convinces Alexandra to take in a nursemaid to look after the welfare of her daughter.

As you can guess this two women are connected in some way and slowly we discover their background stories. I liked the Bess parts, but I had a better connection with Alexandra. She has placed herself in some kind of self quarantine and is troubled by mysterious fears. I don’t know if being in lockdown myself made me sympathize more with Alexandra, but I looked forward to her parts.

There are some other colorful characters in this story, particularly Ambrosia and Lyle. Halls brings the different layers of Georgian society to life. From the smelly and dirty fish market to the golden cage of Alexandra’s home. We also get an inside look in the Foundling hospital that really was a child’s home for deserted young children in the 18th century. This book reminded me that I should visit the Foundling museum next time I’m in London.

The revelation at the end is a bit rushed. I would have liked a more in-depth confrontation between Bess and Alexandra. But I did get an answer to all my questions. The Familiars is my favorite Halls novel so far, but this one is also a good choice if you want to discover her solid writing style.

I’m eagerly awaiting Stacey Halls next book as I don’t doubt it will have an interesting premise as well.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read any of Stacey Halls novels? What’s your favorite story about Georgian London?