Sunday, July 12, 2015


George Warleggan finished the last novel of the original Poldark Quartet, Warleggan, feeling very much like his star was on the ascendant. He's married the girl of his lustful dreams, taken over the ancestral home of the nemesis of his dreams, and has a baby on the way. Er, well, his new wife, the former Elizabeth Poldark* has a baby on the way, anyway. But (mild spoilers for that novel ahoy!), while his book was called Warleggan, the baby coming is probably one who should have (cough) quite another, but very familiar, surname. Cough.

Whether or not there's a cuckoo in George's nest -- said maybe-cuckoo being born in the first chapter during a lunar eclipse, giving this novel, The Black Moon, its title -- he's got some trouble on his hands in this one, as his lively little Poldark stepson has discovered a delightfully hilarious way to irritate George (at least, by proxy) and just cannot stop doing so, even though it gets everyone else in trouble until someone gets caught in the act. D'oh!

And then there's the governess George has engaged for his wife's older son, Elizabeth's cousin Morwenna, who is nowhere near as pretty as Elizabeth (who is still considered a classic beauty nonpareil even after years of marriage and motherhood and household management) but still catches the eye of a man or two, one highly suitable by George's standards, one less so. Very less so. Because this is still a Poldark novel, and Ross is still part of the picture, and so is his wife Demelza, and Demelza comes from a poor family of miners, and her brothers have grown up to be big strapping handsome men, and her little brother Drake is the strappingest and handsomest of all.

Hey, it wouldn't be a Poldark novel without a pair of star-crossed lovers, would it? Verity and Andrew. Caroline and Dwight (though their course of not-smooth true love still hasn't gotten them to the altar as of this book; Dwight went for sailoring last novel, remember,  and in this one has gotten himself both shipwrecked and captured by some very cranky villagers in the middle of Revolutionary France. Oops), meet Morwenna and Drake. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

Meanwhile, Ross Poldark, now happily married through four novels and then some, with a growing son and a new baby daughter and a wife he loves dearly, with a prospering mine and money to spend on fixing up his house, can't stand contentment. When he learns of Dwight's plight in France, and that Caroline has managed to persuade the government to do something about it (sort of), well of course Ross has to get involved. Even though it's dangerous. Or perhaps because it's dangerous. Because Ross Poldark. Duh.

And then there is one more Poldark, who until this volume has barely been a figurant but roars forward for key moments in this book: Agatha. Agatha is Ross' great-aunt, an old maid who has seen six generations of her family living out their lives in the house that is now George's. She's been good for an excuse for Ross to visit and for moments of comic relief here and there, but now she's finally a character. And what a character she is. And her little cat, too. Vale, Miss Poldark. Your last barb hit home.

Interestingly, The Black Moon was written a good 20+ years after the previous book. Winston Graham apparently got tired of his career as a highly successful and beloved author of historical fiction and turned his hand to mainstream work for a while. Of course he was good at this too (Marnie, anyone?), but he was eventually persuaded to return to this beloved world of miners and fishermen and barely-making-it-landed gentry in 18th Century Cornwall. I would say he didn't miss a beat, but really, I do detect slight differences in his prose in this later Poldark book. The quality is still first rate, but it's a bit more economical, more precise, less wild. He's grown as a writer, we see, but sometimes miss his excesses. Or at least I do.

But still, it's a Poldark novel, a novel of Cornwall, full of scenery porn, resource drama, borderline class warfare, and ROMANCE. One can't help but love it, and be glad there are still several more to go.

*First love of Ross Poldark, wife of the late Francis Poldark, mother of Geoffrey Charles Poldark, etc.

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