The House of Allerbrook
This entertaining if slightly overlong followup to The House of Lanyon, which like its predecessor is set on rural Exmoor in Somerset, centers on Jane Sweetwater, the youngest sister of a minor landowner. In 1535, when her sister Sybil’s illegitimate pregnancy ruins her chances of becoming lady-in-waiting to the queen, sixteen-year-old Jane is carefully groomed to take her place. Alas, at the royal court Jane attracts the unwanted attention of Henry VIII, unhappily married to Anna of Cleves. Her desperate flight home to Allerbrook House preserves her honor but angers her brother and guardian, who saw her as a way of improving his position. Married against her will to an uncouth older farmer, Jane tries to make the best of her situation. She grabs hold of her good fortune when her family’s lowly circumstances suddenly change for the better.
As the years and decades pass, Jane’s status and influence grows. Despite her continued longing for a man she can never marry, Jane takes pride in running her household, raising her son and her troublesome nephew, and following suit with the next generation. Although this is mainly a domestic saga, with the family rivalries and neighborhood squabbles such novels include, the frequent shifts in England’s state religion (and people’s resulting confusion) make themselves clearly known. In one particularly well-rendered scene, Jane, though Protestant, rides to warn local clergy about a rampaging mob bent on stealing church treasures.
Anand brings the period to life with smooth storytelling and good humor. Although it strains credulity at times for members of a minor West Country family to hobnob with royalty and play drop-in roles at so many historical events, this doesn’t make their adventures any less enjoyable.