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This is the second book in the Poldark series.
It is preferable to read the books, as well as my reviews of them, in chronological order. Despite this I have avoided including any major plot spoilers for the first book in this second review, and none at all for the book I am reviewing. In my comparison of the first two books, I have even given reasons why some readers may wish to skip the first book.
The first book, called Ross Poldark, ended leaving me cautiously optimistic about the future of this mining family who are living in late 18th century Cornwall.
*** Comparison of 1st & 2nd Poldark Books ***
The early Poldark novels are named after the main characters from the stories. Demelza does feature a lot in this second book, which is named after her, but no more than she did in the first book. She is my favourite character from this series of books, as from very lowly and deprived beginnings, she is willing to seize the opportunities that life gives her, but not without considering the feelings of others. Here we see her strength of character shining through the many adversities.
There is a lot more suffering seen in this book, compared to the first. The harsh conditions of the time dominate the storylines, although there are happier times as well.
The Warleggan family, who I disliked in the first book, grow more ruthless, and become hated by me. The actions of this banking family cause many to end up in debtors' prisons, or just plain starve.
This being the second book in the twelve part Poldark series, I would recommend to most that they read the first book called Ross Poldark first. Although I believe that you need to read them in chronological order to most appreciate them, for readers who will only like books with a lot of action in them, this second book may make a better starting point. Book one does have action scenes in it, but there is more scene setting and romance in that first book, than this second one.
*** Background to Plot ***
This book starts with the birth of Demelza's first child, who is lucky enough to have two proud parents, as well as many extended family members and other villagers willing to help, if necessary. The month of May, when the child is born, is not normally notable for bad storms, and it is hoped that this unseasonable weather is not a bad omen.
This second book also continues the story of Ross's business interests, set against a background of increased taxation by the Government, to pay for the costs of war and peaceful reform. Increased taxes included those for land, houses, windows, servants, horses, hats, bricks, tiles, linens, and of particular concern to the poor was candle tax.
A shipwreck part of the plot shows how circumstances influence how poverty stricken people, witnessing it from the land, are affected.
If only one set of villagers quickly arrives on the scene, there is more likely to be help for the survivors than if several villages are involved. This is because one or two villages' hunger is more likely to be satisfied from one ship's cargo than many more. The more people that are trying to plunder the cargo, the more likely they are to need to fight among themselves for it, and have no time or inclination to help survivors.
The amount of smuggling going on between Cornish and French ports in particular, led the Cornish to sense that social unrest was even worse in France though. Readers who know the European history of this time will be aware of the implications of this, and those that don't will learn much about it from reading this book and later Poldark novels.
When Ross is chatting with others with mining interests, he comes up with two possible solutions to the declining price of the raw product, but does not expect, or want, to be the one to lead either action being put into practice.
All concerned in any such actions will upset the powerful Warleggan family, but the leader would particularly be a target for revenge.
The Warleggans are the decendants of a blacksmith, and so were not helped to business success in banking by the class structure. Nevertheless, they have been very successful at it, and want more and more of the power that money can buy, and do not care who gets hurt in the process. Though they do keep inside the law, just.
Anyone taking on the Warleggans can expect to have a formidable enemy for life, and even continuing after death to his descendents, and this is a theme that continues in later books in this series.
*** The Author ***
Winston Graham OBE wrote many books and became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Much of the 12 part Poldark series of books has been adapted for television. Although I have enjoyed the TV adaptations, I prefer the books.
This second Poldark book continues to show many examples of the author's wide knowledge of Cornish history, geography and natural history, at ground level (flora, and fauna), over-ground (meteorology), and under-ground (geology and mining). This knowledge is woven neatly into the plot in an interesting and entertaining way. Both the beauty and cruelty of the natural world are here, plus the way well portrayed characters chose to deal with these extremes.
He also wrote contemporary thrillers, including Marnie, which Alfred Hitchcock made into a film.
His finished his autobiography "Memoirs of a Private Man" shortly before he died aged 93 in 2003.
*** Recommendation ***
This is one of the thicker books of the Poldark series of twelve, but that didn't stop me reading it quickly, as I soon become engrossed in it.
Featured in this book are deceit, treachery, both within and outside the Poldark family, murder, self imposed exile, inhuman conditions inside jails leading to death worse than hanging, as well as romance, and all other important aspects of Cornish life during 1788-90.
Reading this book is like going into a time machine for me, so I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this historical fiction, which is well written and researched, by an author who lived in Cornwall for many years.
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Pan Books (6 Jun 2008)
Demelza, the miner's daughter Poldark rescued from a fairground rabble, is now his wife. Demelza's efforts to adapt to the ways of the gentry and her husband, bring her confusion and heartache, despite the joy in the birth of their first child. And the seeds of dispute with Warleggan are also sown.