Philippa Carr is one of the pseudonyms of the author also known as Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and others. As Victoria Holt she wrote gothic romance/suspense novels, as Jean Plaidy she wrote more serious historical fiction and it seems that her Philippa Carr books are somewhere between the two. The Daughters of England is a long series of twenty novels following successive generations of one family from the sixteenth century to the twentieth, where the narrator of each book is the daughter of the narrator from the previous one. The series was originally published between 1972 and 1995 but has now been released in ebook format by Open Road Media and I received the first three volumes from the publisher through Netgalley in the form of a 3-in-1 book, which is why I’ve waited until I’ve finished all three before writing my review.
The Miracle at St Bruno’s is where it all begins. Our narrator is Damask Farland, the daughter of a rich lawyer, who grows up in Tudor England during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Queen Mary I, a time of political and religious change. The story revolves around Damask’s relationship with Bruno, a boy from the neighbouring St Bruno’s Abbey who believes he must be a miracle child because he was found as a baby in the Abbey’s Christmas crib.
This was a good introduction to the series and an excellent portrayal of what life was like during this time period. While Damask and her family may have been secure and prosperous during the reign of one monarch, as soon as the next one came to the throne with his or her different religious views, their safety was no longer guaranteed. I did find the plot very predictable and could see every ‘surprising’ revelation and dramatic twist coming a mile away, but maybe I’ve just read too many of this type of book!
Book Two, The Lion Triumphant, is the story of Damask’s daughter, Cat Kingsman, and is an exciting historical adventure novel. The setting this time is Elizabethan England and with the country preparing to defend itself against the Spanish Armada, England’s brave sailors are the heroes of the day. One of these sailors, Jake Pennlyon, captain of the Rampant Lion, is determined to make Cat his wife. Cat does everything in her power to convince him that she will never marry him, but when she is captured and taken aboard a Spanish galleon bound for Tenerife she finds herself at the mercy of Don Felipe, the Governor of the Canary Islands, who has sworn revenge against Jake and the woman he loves.
This was a great story and my favourite of the three books, though I actually felt guilty for enjoying it so much because the ‘hero’ is such a violent, arrogant man. Despite the female protagonists and the focus on history from a woman’s perspective, these really aren’t good books from a feminist point of view. Even by sixteenth century standards I’m not sure Jake’s behaviour (and Colum Casvellyn’s in the next volume) would have been considered acceptable! Still, at least Jake does have some redeeming qualities, unlike Colum…
The third book in the series, The Witch from the Sea, is narrated by Cat’s daughter, Linnet. With the Armada defeated and the Elizabethan era coming to an end, Linnet’s father is planning to set up a trading company with a friend, Fennimore Landor. It is expected that Linnet will marry Fennimore…until the night she is abducted by local squire Colum Casvellyn. Colum is a character who makes Jake Pennlyon seem like a saint, yet Linnet is attracted to him and eventually agrees to marry him.
Settling into Colum’s home, Castle Paling in Cornwall, Linnet gradually discovers exactly how her husband has made his fortune and is horrified by what she learns. Life at the castle becomes even more difficult for Linnet after a beautiful woman is found shipwrecked on the shore nearby and becomes part of the household. It will be left to Linnet’s daughter, Tamsyn, to solve the mysteries of Castle Paling and uncover the truth about the ‘witch from the sea’.
This book has a darker, more gothic feel than the first two, with descriptions of the castle and its haunted towers, shipwrecks, ghost stories, and the mysterious Halloween appearances and disappearances of the ‘witch’ Maria. It’s also a sad story at times, as we have to say goodbye to some of the characters who have been around for two or three books. Not as good as The Lion Triumphant, but I still enjoyed this one.
My verdict on the Daughters of England series:
These books will be too melodramatic and romance-based to appeal to everyone (especially if you can’t deal with the chauvinistic male characters and the way the women react to them), but I found them to be interesting, entertaining historical fiction novels and there’s no doubt that Philippa Carr has a good knowledge of the time periods she is writing about. While all three of these books focus on fictional characters and their personal stories, they have a strong historical background covering all the major events of the sixteenth and early seventeeth centuries. I had fun reading these three novels, particularly The Lion Triumphant, though I suspect I would probably have enjoyed them more when I was younger and just starting to get into historical fiction.
I would definitely like to continue with the series – but not immediately as even with their different settings the books do all seem to be very similar and reading three in such a short space of time was a bit too much for me. I’ll probably wait a while before picking up the fourth one, Saraband for Two Sisters.