Penmarric begins as Mark Castallack and his mother Maud, cheated out of their inheritance by a scheming relative, wage a years long court battle to regain possession of the lands of Penmar and the great house that sits upon it, Penmarric. After twelve years and almost losing hope, fate takes a turn as the wastrel son of the current owner dies and a very young Mark is named heir to all of it. Mark marries Janna, who is ten years older, and has a bit of a surprise in store for him from a past relationship – but then Mark has one or two surprises for Janna as well. Building their family dynasty as the new owners of Penmarric, Janna and Mark slowly drift apart until an accidental meeting forever changes their lives, although a new one also begins as a result of that violent night.
Told in five “books”, each one in the first person POV of Mark, Janna, and three of Mark’s sons, the family’s story takes the reader from Cornwall of the late 19C into the 20C through WWII as the next generation of Castallacks battle for ownership of the Penmar estate and the power that comes with it. The middle of the book was bit slow at times, although I _loved_ the last two books telling Phillip’s and Jan’s stories and the always volatile relationship between the two brothers and their constant battle to be named heir.
If you like those big fat family sagas set in the past with feuding back-biting siblings I’d definitely give this one a whirl – although this one has quite a twist that you don’t normally see in a book – the Castallack family and their story parallels that of Henry II, Eleanor, Richard I (the Lionheart) and the always delightfully evil King John. Ultimately, that is half the fun of this book for those reasonably familiar with Henry and his devil’s brood – can you pick out which of Mark’s sons are young Hal, Geoffrey, Richard and John? Henry’s fate after the ultimate betrayal by his sons? Spot Rosamund Clifford, the illegitimate sons Geoffrey and William Longspee? And best of all is how the author resolves the mystery that still haunts us to this day – the ultimate fate of young Arthur, John’s rival claimant to the throne of England.
All in all a pretty darn good read, and I plan on trying a few more from this author. Apparently she continues her “Plantagenet” saga with two more books, Cashelmara and Wheel of Fortune dealing with the three Edwards. I understand John of Gaunt is in the latter and I very much hope she throws Katherine Swynford in there as well. I’m sorely torn between four and five stars so I’ll call it 4.5/5.