Honor Harris is only eighteen when she first meets Richard Grenvile, proud, reckless - and utterly captivating. But following a riding accident, Honor must reconcile herself to a life alone. As Richard rises through the ranks of the army, marries and makes enemies, Honor remains true to him, and finally discovers the secret of Menabilly.
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I listened to "The King's General" right before reading Ken Follett's "A Dangerous Fortune" and listening to these two books back-to-back clarified my evaluation of this one. "General" is historical fiction, but Follett plays in that genre too so I don't think the comparison is entirely unfair. Daphne Du Maurier is the superior writer-- some of her passages, descriptions, metaphors are memorably rendered. Follett is the more natural storyteller, he is able to establish a pace that keeps the reader engrossed, eager to find out what happens next. Du Maurier's characters are not *as* shallowly rendered as Follett's, but they're not characters that the reader establishes a true relationship with. Despite the fact that her book is written in the first person, which makes that relationship easier, I didn't ever fully embrace the characters as I do in the best of books. I don't think it matters that she is writing within the constraints of historical information and personalities as there is rich terrain to mine here. So I would give her four stars for the writing itself, three for characterization and plot. The reader is very good, the story is interesting but not compelling. Good, not great whether you love to read about English history or not.
Daphne Du Maurier's work usually sweeps me into its world. This one, however, didn't.
In fact, my sense was that Du Maurier herself never really sank into this book when she was writing it. Her use of language is as masterful as ever- but the "feel" of the book, the tone and emotion that giving subtext to her words, is somehow distracted and "off."
This perplexed me, so I did a little digging (thanks, Wikipedia) and gathered some information that might interest you, if you are considering purchasing The King's General.
The book was published in 1946. It was the book Du Maurier was writing when her husband, "Boy" Browning, was away serving in the war.
The King's General is told by a character named Honor Harris, who is in love with Sir Richard Grenville, a Royalist general in the Civil War. In any given chapter, Honor Harris describes waiting for news of the war, worrying about her lover, the brief bursts of happiness when the war permits them to spend time together, and the deprivation and Spartan provisions of life during war time. These are undoubtedly topics Daphne Du Maurier was experiencing and thinking of in war-time Britain.
Honor Harris also spends parts of the Civil War at the house, Menabilly, which three centuries later would be the Du Mauriers home. I imagine Daphne Du Maurier writing The King's General to pass the time, to detach from her own worries about World War II by researching and writing this story about a different war.
So that made me the book, a little.
But, frankly, it's not her best work. It's a book written by an excellent writer when her real thoughts were elsewhere.
So keep that in mind. It ain't a great book, but if you're interested in Cornish history, the Civil War, or if you're waiting for a loved one to return home from war, it may be just the right book.