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 The final installment of Wilson's 18th-century English trilogy (Master of Morholm, 1987; The Ravished Earth, 1989) proves the most staid by far as the well-off children of the passionate Hardwick family live out their Fenlands destinies in orderly, bourgeois style. Caroline Hardwick, whose feisty mother defied her father to marry the illegitimate son of a local aristocrat in The Ravished Earth, reveals an infinitely more conventional nature even as she hankers after a French officer, captured in the Napoleonic Wars, who's been placed under her father's supervision. Unable to resist her handsome Frenchman, Caroline plots to elope with him to his homeland, but as soon as she successfully smuggles her lover to the English coast she finds herself deserted, disgraced and, worst of all, pregnant. While Papa curses and smashes furniture, Caroline flees to London and lives in poverty until her baby is born and almost immediately dies. Caroline, too, comes down with fever and is rescued in the nick of time by Richard Lindsay, the orphaned son of a Fenlands laborer whom Caroline habitually snubbed as a girl. Now, though, Richard is a handsome young Navy lieutenant, and as he nurses Caroline back to health the two fall inevitably in love. The elder Hardwicks give their blessing to a marriage deemed fortunate now that Caroline's reputation has been ruined, and all ends properly for the entire Hardwick clan as the century, and the trilogy, limp to a halfhearted end. Disappointingly stilted, and lacking in its predecessors' fire.

Pub Date: July 29th, 1991
ISBN: 0-312-05969-8
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1991