Monday, October 24, 2022

Philippa Gregory's Dawnlands, third in her Fairmile series, continues her 17th-century family saga

Themes of liberty, religious conflict, and longing for one’s homeland percolate through this lively third novel in Gregory’s bestselling Fairmile series, after Dark Tides (2020). The action spans from the Protestant Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion against his Catholic uncle, James II, in 1685 to the Glorious Revolution three years later, as Alinor Reekie’s family becomes enmeshed in political intrigue.

Having risen from poor servant to respectable London matriarch, the now-elderly Alinor is a wise, knowing presence. Her brother Ned, who despises monarchical rule, returns from Boston with a courageous young Pokanoket woman he rescues from enslavement. Unsurprisingly, he takes Monmouth’s side. Livia Avery, a truly irritating character, continues her inveterate scheming as lady-in-waiting to James II’s queen.

From a moonlit march through the Somerset countryside to a Barbados sugar plantation’s brutal conditions, the sense of place is particularly strong. As in all good multigenerational sagas, the story—lengthy but never dull—offers the pleasures of seeing a family expand and flourish; Alinor’s great-granddaughters from Venice are becoming significant characters. The ending signals more to come.

Dawnlands will be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in November, and I'd submitted this review for Booklist's Oct. 15th issue. 

Some other thoughts:

- It is odd to think of Alinor, a woman in her late sixties here, as having great-grandchildren nearly of marriageable age, and I had to do some thinking about whether the math worked out.  I believe it does, or can, when you consider how young they all were when she and her descendants had children.

- In Dark Tides (see my earlier review), Ned's adventures in the New World felt like a separate story altogether from Alinor's, but his plot thread gets reintegrated with others from the family in this novel... for a time. There are a lot of characters involved, with significant backstories by this point, so you probably don't want to start the series with this book.

- If it's not obvious, I really don't care for Livia, the character. She was clearly created to be disruptive and irritating, and she definitely is.

- Over the three books in the series thus far (and I'm assuming there'll be more based on the ending), Alinor and her family have risen in status considerably, through their own intelligence and hard work. There was no family tree in my e-ARC, and it would be a great addition to the books at this point.

- Dawnlands, the title, refers to the homeland of the Pokanoket people.

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