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The Black Moon: Novel of Cornwall, 1794-1795 - Winston Graham

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Author: Winston Graham / Genre: Fiction

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      26.05.2008 19:19
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      Good historical fiction, set against a backdrop of 1794-95 British history & the French Revolution.

      This is the 5th in the Poldark series of twelve by Winston Graham.
      The first 4 books of the series were written between 1945 and 1953, so I was interested to see if there would be any differences between them and this 5th book, which was written in 1973. (During the 20 year gap the author concentrated on writing contemporary stories.)

      At the front of the book readers are given family trees of the main characters. These will no doubt be equally helpful to those new to the series, as it was to those reading it after the 20 year break between this and the previous book in the series.

      The book opens on the evening of 13th February 1794, shortly before Valentine Warleggan is born, at the grand Tudor house at Trenwith, near Truro, in Cornwall.

      The doctor of the parents' choice who was to attend the birth lived in the town, and so it was planned to move the expectant mum there. This was delayed because of the increased risk of cholera, influenza and measles in the built up area. Then circumstances lead to Valentine being born earlier than expected.

      The chosen doctor quickly rode out to Trenwith, when summoned, and said that it would be for "the best" to use forceps. Best for whom, I'm not sure! But he decided to have a cup of tea first, and by the time he had finished his refreshment, labour had speeded up, luckily for mum, and the baby came naturally.

      I believe there are good reasons to name the boy after the day he was born, rather than his parents' ancestors.

      As proud Dad, George Warleggan reminisces about his family and tells of his hopes for his new son, new readers will find out about important Warleggan family history that they have missed.

      I like the way the author uses this sort of technique throughout the book, as it is also a useful reminder to those who are reading the books in order like me.

      The Black Moon title to this book refers to a total eclipse of the moon, which took place on the night of the birth of this, Elizabeth's first child after her marriage to George Warleggan. Being born at this time is thought by the superstitious members of the story to be a bad omen. I am not superstitious, but believe the child's parentage to be a bad enough start, but will explain no more about that for fear of spoiling the plot for potential readers, as this was definitely one of the better parts for me.

      As the birth is over by the end of page four of the first chapter, there are NO PLOT SPOILERS HERE.

      While I tell you why this book has lost one star from me (I have given the first four books all five stars), please bear in mind that four stars is still a good rating, and read to the end to find why I thought this was still a good read overall.

      The first part of the book was disappointing for me, due to my lack of interest in some of the subjects covered.

      Winston Graham wrote this fiction series based on historical and geographical facts. The French Revolution is the main international impact on this storyline, and while I find the politics of the time interesting, I am not interested in the details of naval battle, at least partly because I don't understand enough about sailing and any ships, let alone ships of this time. To the author these details seem important. For those for know less than me about this war, I had better mention that the British fought on the side of the French monarchy and aristocracy, against the French revolutionaries who wanted power for their working class.

      There is something that will keep people like me interested in these naval battles, though. The survival of one of the British men on board is very important to the storyline. This is the man who joined the navy because the woman he loves rejected him, only to have her change her mind just before he is to set sail. As the Navy won't let him change his mind about serving with them, their happiness has to be put on hold until he returns from war, if he manages to escape giving his life for his country. While I found this part of the storyline entertaining, I don't have much sympathy for the woman involved, because I think she deserved most of the mental torment she went through, although some caused by her family background, was beyond her control.

      The gulf between the rich and poor that was the root cause of the French Revolution, is seen from a British viewpoint too. Is it any wonder that it is dangerous for anyone who is rich enough to own a horse, to go riding alone along lonely roads, were they may meet poverty stricken men, desperate for food for themselves and their families?

      This book also includes some changes in the local Anglican Church, due partly to different patronage by the local gentry, and partly due to the historical influence that the Wesley led new Methodist Christian denomination was having. I knew about this historical church background before reading this book, and while I have sympathy for the reasons behind the breakaway church, it saddens me to read about so-called Christians in conflict. Having said that, the behaviour of the break away group is mostly positive, and does not erupt into violence, so perhaps I should have been impressed by this example of non-violent significant change of attitude and behaviour.

      As with previous Poldark books, this also has a humorous sub-plot, which revolves around George Warleggan's aversion to frogs and toads. His reaction to them is very entertaining particularly to his stepson, and many others, including me. His servants' attempts to rid the pond of them fail so many times that they begin to think that one of the many people he has upset may be "helping" them return. As there could be harsh penalties for trespass, I kept hoping that this supposed prank wouldn't backfire though.

      The book ends with a "sting" that left me eager to read the next in the series, The Four Swans.


      *** Special Feline Guest Star ***

      I'm not usually a lover of felines, but Smollet Cat's intuition and loyalty to a special old lady, won my affection and made me smile, so he wins my award for the best animal in the whole Poldark series, even though he only appears in this one book.


      *** Conclusion ***

      Good historical fiction, set against a backdrop of 1794 and 1795 British domestic history and the French Revolution.

      War, seamanship, farming, mining, politics, religious changes, romance and family life, mostly from the viewpoint of those living in Cornwall at the time, all feature in this well written book, with good plots, bringing to life great characters.

      I especially like the way this author weaves comic sub-plots into the historically accurate story, and the compelling ending which led me to get hold of the next book quickly.



      Paperback: 546 pages
      Publisher: Pan Books (6 Jun 2008)
      ISBN-10: 0330463322
      ISBN-13: 978-0330463324
      RRP: £7.99

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    • Product Details

      A historical saga from the Poldark novels. Set in 1794, the birth of a son to Elizabeth and George Warleggan, serves only to accentuate the rift between the Poldark and Warleggan families, and the enduring rivalry between George and Ross finds a new focus for bitter enmity and conflict. From the author of TREMOR.