Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Founding by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles
Copyright 2010 - Sourcebooks
Originally Published in 1980
Historical Fiction - 539 pages

Eleanor Courtney is a ward of the influential Beaufort family when The Founding opens. She's beyond the normal marrying age and has assumed that she'll likely never marry, although if she had her choice she would marry the dashing Richard, Duke of York, with whom she's shared a single kiss.

When a marriage is arranged between Eleanor and the son of a wealthy Yorkshire sheep farmer, Eleanor is horrified but sets about making a decent home for herself and Robert Morland. They are dreadfully ill-matched and her father-in-law is a headstrong, sometimes bullying man; the wealth he has accumulated gives him a great deal of power over everyone, including his meek son. Eleanor grimly prepares to do her duty as a wife, to bear an heir and do as she's told. Yorkshire is foreign land to her and she longs for home.

Yet, with the help of her two faithful servants, Job and Gaby, she's able to build a beautiful garden retreat where music and quiet friendship help her to bear her new world. As she settles in, Eleanor shows herself to be a woman of unexpected strength, powerful influence and business savvy. Throughout bloody battles that force the Morlands to take sides and arguments over land with dangerous neighbors, through plague and prosperity, love and loss, Eleanor and her family become the cornerstone of a dynasty.

The Founding, set in the 15th century but written in an accessible modern style, was originally intended to be a single, stand-alone novel but was so well accepted that the author chose to make it the beginning of a series and has continued to write over 20 novels spanning hundreds of years. The Founding covers Eleanor's lifetime and reminds me of a comment that a romance writer once made about why Danielle Steel's novels sell, even though most people agree she's not a very good writer: "Stuff happens." That's certainly true of The Founding, although Harrod-Eagles is a writer of depth and style. The characterization and plotting are stunning.

Eleanor is an indomitable character, fiercely protective of her family and determined to continue expanding their wealth both through the sheep trade, which eventually expands by several levels, and through carefully-chosen marriage partners for her children. She doesn't always win. At times, the family must shift its allegiance and the children don't necessarily cooperate when it comes to the marriage game. There are tragic deaths and exciting moments with kings and queens, battles and romance. The Morlands are a fictional family but their story is seamlessly blended with events of the time so the reader gets a firm sense of time and place.

4.5/5 - Honestly, I probably shouldn't take off a half point because there is nothing I can criticize at all about this book. The characterization, historical setting, plot and action are amazing. I got so caught up with the family that I cried when two of my favorite characters died. The only reason I'm not giving it a 5/5 is that The Founding is not necessarily a book I would call an all-time favorite, wonderful as it is.

I'm thrilled to know that the series goes on practically forever. There are 28 more titles listed and I've been told the series continues up to 1917 -- hundreds of years of expansion from this family's crude beginnings as sheep farmers. I will definitely continue reading this series, although it'll probably take me at least a dozen years to get through them.

I'm not planning to review that long list of books I mentioned on Sunday in any specific order, but I found another DNF, so I'll do a DNF post with three books (balance!) and plan to have a children's day, soon, and post about a couple of books that relate to Earth Day on Thursday. Don't hold me to any of that. My life is crazy. There are men putting together an entertainment center in my den, as I write. Would you believe, we've never had an actual entertainment center, before? We've had TV stands and a crude wooden contraption that I'm pretty sure was made from a set of bunk beds (not attractive, but definitely functional). At this point, I'm looking at the thing and thinking, "Um. Will it fit?" Big pieces, small house.

Fiona is supervising. Go Fiona. I'd better check to make sure she's not getting in the way. Happy Tuesday!


  1. That sounds like a fantastic book! Is it the first in a series?

  2. Krista,

    Yes. There are 29 books in the series!!!

  3. Holy cow, that is a huge series!

  4. Well, it's on my TBR list now. This sounds wonderful. I love big family sagas and a series that spans this kind of time frame is very interesting. I must be way overdue for a dose of Historical Fiction - it seems to be the majority of what I'm adding to my TBR list lately.

    Thanks for finding this series. I'm definitely going to read this one!!

  5. I'm putting this on my beach book list for this year. I know it's not a traditional beach book--but there's something so decadent about the idea of this one that I can't help it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  6. SuziQ,

    I've only recently discovered the joy of epics and I must say I think it's really exciting that one can follow the same family for hundreds of years by reading this series. I hope you enjoy The Founding as much as I did, when you get to it! Sounds like it's good timing for this review for you, eh? :)


    I think it would make an excellent beach book if you read fast enough -- it's nice and meaty.

  7. I really enjoyed reading this book, and liked the follow up even more. I really need to hurry up and read the next book in the series. Initially I was somewhat daunted by the idea of a series this long, but I am glad that I have started it now.

  8. Wow, large series, must try.

  9. I'm not a huge fan of series but this is really high praise indeed. I may have to look for this one!!!

    Life by Candlelight

  10. Marg,

    I'm not generally a series reader, but I like the concept of following a family through history, mostly for the sake of dipping my toes into English history in an orderly manner. I'm not daunted by the size of the series, but I guess that's because I figure I'll only read one occasionally -- I would never try to barrel straight through the entire series. I'll have to go look up your review of the second book.


    VERY large series. It's kind of startling how far she's been able to take a single series (and rather cool).


    Me either. But, I do like the idea of following a family through history and found myself completely immersed in this family's lives, so I have no qualms about continuing on.

  11. Not sure I actually wrote a review. I am not particularly good at that at the moment!

  12. Marg,

    That's probably a good thing because I've been equally bad at both blogging and blog-hopping, lately. My heart isn't entirely in it. We've got too much else going on (like everything in the house trying to break at once).


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