Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Late Harvest by Fiona Buckley, an entertaining historical saga of 19th-century Somerset

Fiona Buckley is best known for her Tudor-era mystery series featuring Ursula Blanchard, lady-in-waiting (and more) at the court of the first Queen Elizabeth. Under her real name, Valerie Anand, she has crafted many outstanding historical novels set in various periods of England’s history, including the six-book Bridges Over Time series as well as two linked standalone novels (The House of Lanyon and The House of Allerbrook) set on Exmoor in Somerset in the 15th and 16th centuries respectively.

In terms of style and focus, her newest historical saga, Late Harvest, belongs in the same category with the latter. It brings together bucolic settings, timeless human dilemmas, epic romance, and dashing adventure (including intrigue surrounding illegal smuggling) reminiscent of the Poldark novels.

The heroine is Peggy Shawe of Foxwell Farm, a freehold on Exmoor in the county of Somerset. In 1860, as an elderly woman, she looks back on a life which her fellow countrymen might call scandalous, but of which she's proud... she has no regrets about her actions. Her main sorrow involves the many years she was forced to spend apart from the man she loved and lost, Ralph Duggan.

In 1800, Peggy is 20 years old, and there’s always been the unspoken understanding that she’d marry James Bright, the younger son from another farming family. Although Peggy and James are childhood friends, she finds him solid but dull. Then Peggy falls in love with Ralph, whose father engages in “free trading” to avoid the excessive import duties on foreign goods. Peggy’s widowed mother strongly objects to their marriage, claiming they’re unsuited: “Farming families should marry into one another. The sea and the land don’t mix.” Ultimately, their future together is thwarted after Ralph’s brother is accused of murder.

Mention is made of the Napoleonic Wars, but specific events don’t intrude much into the story. However, a deep sense of time and place is ever-present in the farmers’ speech patterns, the beautiful descriptions of the heather-covered moorlands and rocky coastline of Somerset, and local men’s actions against government overreach. People’s long-term relationships with the land are emphasized. “It was,” Peggy states, observing the yarn market at Dunster, “as though bygone times still existed, preserved in the things our ancestors had built.”

Many sagas that span this amount of time can have an episodic feel, but Late Harvest is smoothly paced as it follows Peggy’s domestic life and adventures over many decades. The story comes full circle in a satisfying fashion but takes many twists on its way there.

Late Harvest was published by Severn House in hardcover last June ($29.95, 265pp) and will be out in trade paperback in the US a few weeks from now, in March.($17.95).  It's also out on Kindle ($9.99).  Thanks to the publisher for access via NetGalley.

For those curious about the setting, aside from the painting on the novel's cover, see the Exford page on the Visit Somerset tourism site.  Exford is the rural village where the Shawes live, and it's beautiful country.


  1. I read this book last month and enjoyed it very much. A little sad in parts, but Peggy's strong character shines through all the set backs she endures. This was an easy book to read and I agree the ending is very satisfactory.

    The cover is what drew me to this book and the title makes sense now that I've read it.

    1. I hope the author decides to write more sagas of this type. It makes me want to reread her earlier books.