The House of Lanyon

Written by Valerie Anand
Review by Sarah Johnson

In her afterword, Valerie Anand mentions it was her dream to pen a novel set on Exmoor, the rolling countryside and woodlands around Somerset. She combines a wonderful sense of place with an engrossing family saga set between 1458 and 1504, with the Wars of the Roses as a mostly distant backdrop.

The Lanyons are tenant farmers on land belonging to the Sweetwaters, minor gentry living on Exmoor. Relations between them have always been frosty, but true enmity sparks when two Sweetwater sons disrupt the funeral procession of family patriarch George Lanyon. Richard, George’s middle-aged son, swears to improve his family’s station in life henceforth. He begins by arranging his son Peter’s marriage to Liza Weaver, the well-dowered daughter of a neighboring family in the wool trade. After much heartache, both Peter and Liza abandon hopes of marrying their lovers and agree to wed one another. And Richard, for all his pride and bluster, closely guards a secret from his own past that could destroy everything he’s built.

Liza and Peter develop a strong marital bond, raising a family and suffering Richard’s ambition to rebuild Allerbrook Farm as a manor house that will put the Sweetwater residence to shame. They deal with business disputes, family squabbles, and personal losses as best they can, with outside events rarely intruding until Lancaster and York force everyone to take sides.

With its descriptions of local trades, customs, and family life, The House of Lanyon is a fascinating social history of the medieval West Country as seen through the eyes of sympathetic characters. Though nearly the entire book takes place on a small plot of land, I was never bored. The sort of novel you can comfortably wallow in for days, it’s a gift to readers who, like me, loved Anand’s Bridges over Time series and wanted more.