A couple of weeks ago I had no internet.
“No internet?!” I hear you cry… and I wasn’t even in a remote corner of the globe, I was in my home. The problem was that my broadband provider was Sky and they’re… not good… to say the least. Anyway, whilst I was in this wifi black hole I managed to read quite a lot of books, about five in the space of two weeks. Three of those books were the books that I’m going to review today; the three that make up the Spoils of Time Trilogy by Penny Vincenzi.
This series is made up of the books ‘No Angel’, ‘Something Dangerous’ and ‘Into Temptation’ and it chronicles the lives of the Lytton Dynasty, focusing mostly around a lead female character by the name of Lady Celia Lytton née Beckenham. I think I will deal with the trilogy as a whole when discussing it, but will rate each book in turn at the end of my review.
The books begin in about 1908, the heyday of the Edwardian era and we are introduced to Lady Celia, who immediately comes across as strong-minded, determined, a little bit sly and a woman who certainly knows what she wants. Possibly a little bit too much of a modern sensibility for a woman living at such a time, but don’t forget that this was the time of the suffragettes and the Fabian society, so perhaps it is not out of place. She quickly entices and marries Oliver Lytton, a kind and fairly gentle soul who is the inheritor of a small but successful publishing company that goes by the family surname. Throughout the next half of the book Celia produces three children; Giles, and twins Venetia and Adele, before adopting a child from the slums of London who for the entirety books is known as Barty.
One thing that strikes me about Vincenzi books is that whilst her writing is rich in detail, her characters have a particular trait/fate that always comes forward, and is constantly represented by their actions. In that sense it is almost like a fairy tale. Celia, as mentioned before is extremely strong minded – almost to the point of bullying on several occasions – and this is contrasted to her long suffering husband. Her children also suffer at the hands of her own ambition, with Giles emerging as a shy and with low self-esteem. The twins fare a little better because they have each other and thus a lifelong bond is formed in the constant absence of their mother.
There are hundreds of characters in these three books, and more plot twists than I could possibly care to mention but that’s what makes them such an addictive read. The huge amounts of characters don’t detract from the story either, it’s not like Game of Thrones where you read about one character and then don’t hear about them again for twenty chapters. The books span the time period from the Edwardian era through to the late 1960s, and through that time (in no particular order!) we are shown the horrors of two World Wars through the eyes of the characters, the rise of the Fascists across Europe and how it affects all involved, the Wall Street crash, the roaring twenties, the depression, the change of British society as the 40’s came to a close and the 50’s began… it is really interesting to anyone who has a passing interest in social history. Of course it is fiction, but lots of the events that occur in the book are real and for someone who doesn’t wish to pursue their interest to academic texts would find this book fascinating.
Naturally there are issues with it, as afore mentioned characters can sometimes feel stereotyped or pigeonholed in order to fit the line of the story. I, for one, can’t help but feel sorry for Oliver and Giles but it becomes frustrating because they don’t seem to do anything about it. Another thing that frustrated me about these books was the ending. I won’t ruin it for you in case you wish to go off and read them, but suffice to say it comes to a rather abrupt halt, and one to which you think the publishers of Vincenzi were gasping for their novel, leaving her little time to end it properly. If I were to pick a main criticism of these books it would be the end; after nearly 2000 pages of storyline, for it to end the way it does feels a little unfair.
Anyway, I really hope you do go and read the books. It’s a great summer read, but the books are quite big so if you’ve got an e-reader I suggest you get it on there! It’s a wonderful escape into the first half of the 20th century, a century so rich in history and intrigue it’s impossible to not be excited about it. And Vincenzi does do it justice; her plot lines fit wonderfully, and her characters don’t appear to jar against the edges of the time to which their bound. Well worth a read if you fancy something light, but not too light!
Covers and Ratings: (apologies the covers are different sizes – blame amazon!)
Until next time!