25 November 2022

Review: Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory

Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory book cover

* Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster *

Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory is the third book in the Fairmile series that began in 2019 with Tidelands (Book 1) and follows straight on after the events in Dark Tides (Book 2). This instalment in the historical fiction series begins in spring 1685 and takes us through to summer in 1689. So much happens in this generational family saga that it's hard to believe the plot takes place in just 4 years, but this encompasses the disquiet around the religious beliefs and practices of King James II, the unrest around monarchy and parliament and of course, the divide between Catholics and Protestants.

Philippa Gregory has a talent for showing how the politics and living conditions of the day affected everyone from the Queen right down to the every man, or ferryman as the case may be. A sub plot in the book took a few characters to Barbados this time and introduced the reader to the atrocious conditions of the slave trade and sugar harvesting industry. In Dark Tides we followed Ned to New England and the two contrasting settings didn't strike the right chord for me. This time however, I was equally entertained by the goings on in Barbados as I was for the happenings back in England, and largely, I think that was down to the character of Rowan.

In Dawnlands we catch up with the same main characters in the family, and continue to follow them through their work lives, personal lives, loves, losses and changes in favour. This allows for deep character development and I enjoyed the introduction of a different sort of love one character has for another:
"No! Never. He loves her as a man loves a woman, as a young man loves a young woman, and that's good and right for him. But I love her as if she were a star in the sky. I love her as if she were the wind blowing over the water. I don't need to own her, I just want her to be in the sky, moving over the deep, I just want her to shine." Page 377
Lady Livia Avery is still a force in their lives and a thorn in their side. A manipulative woman and a terrific villain in the series, here a character tries to deliver a warning about her:
"I promised myself I'd never look back. I advised you to do the same. She's like laudanum: at first it's wholly beneficial, then you can't imagine your health without it's support, and you want more and more." Page 92
I enjoyed Gregory's take on the warming pan incident surrounding the birth of James Edward Francis Stuart to Queen Mary in 1688, although it could prove controversial for some readers. What was certain, is that the Royal couple needed a male heir, and it's clear in the following passage that the Court was equally desperate for her to conceive:
"There'd better be nothing in this that is dangerous," Livia warned her bluntly. "If she gets ill then I will be in terrible trouble, but you're a dead woman." "Nothing but thyme to boil in sweet wine. She should take honey and pepper every day, and she should eat hare and venison, male meat, the pizzle and the parts. Can you order that for her?" "Of course I can," Livia said. "She's the Queen of England. I can get almost anything in the world but a son in the cradle!" Page 261
Dawnlands is just as entertaining as Tidelands and the machinations of Lady Avery are increasingly manipulative and self-serving and just as hard to deal with for the characters as they are for the reader. The author has created a terrific villain in the series and I can't wait to see what plans she has in store for this social climbing, conniving woman.

While I haven't heard of a fourth book in the Fairmile series, I have no reason to believe there won't be one. The characters are continuing to eke out their various livings as best they can, with some striving to improve their station in life while others remain motivated to pursue political justice or concentrate on their individual or family legacy. 

Dawnlands by Philippa Gregory is highly recommended for fans of historical fiction and best read as part of a series.

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. I've now ordered the first in the series - I'll have to ignore the witchy stuff - but she is a good writer. Cheers from Carole's Chatter

    1. Thanks Carole, there's no witchy stuff in this novel, it's really only the first one in the series.


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