My rating: 4 stars
The King’s General was the third book I read by Daphne du Maurier, following the magnificent Rebecca and the enigmatic My Cousin Rachel. So, I could not help but compare it with the other two while reading. It feels quite different, not being either as atmospheric or as mysterious. Both characteristics are still present, they are just not as prevalent as I had anticipated before starting to delve into the pages of this historical novel about pride, love, war, betrayal and acceptance.
In 1653, Honor Harris, the narrator of this story, muses about previous life events and decides to write about them so that people understand why she loved Richard Grenvile despite all his faults. As with the other books I’ve read by Daphne du Maurier, the first chapter is utterly intriguing, attention-grabbing, and deserves to be reread after finishing the novel.
Honor takes us 30 years back in time to the moment when her oldest brother Kit returned home to Lanrest newlywed to Gartred, a young woman from a really important family – the Grenviles. Honor was 10 years old back then, and until that occasion had assumed that people married for love.
“For the first time I realized, with something of a shock, that marriage was not the romantic fairy legend I had imagined it to be, but a great institution, a bargain between important families, with the tying-up of property.”
Their marriage was not a happy one. Gartred was bitter against Kit, and he started to change, becoming more cool and aggressive. He didn’t like how she looked and smiled at other man, including his brother Robin. But the marriage soon came to an end, since Kit died with smallpox in the same year as their father. As Lanrest passed to Jo and Gartred left the house, Honor thought she would never see a Grenvile again. She was wrong, however.
At the day of her eighteenth birthday, she went to see His Majesty’s Fleet sail into Plymouth Sound with her brother Jo and sister Mary. Later that day, they went to a banquet hosted by the Duke of Buckingham, and while there she met Richard Grenvile, Gartred’s brother. He was sardonic, and his replies were both funny and rude. But he also showed kindness when the dinner at the castle ended up sooner than expected for Honor, much to his fault, though. Subsequently, we also learn that he was irresponsible money-wise and wild.
The interactions between the two of them are funny, endearing and engaging, since they both are really well-crafted and interesting characters. Honor admits to have been the enfant terrible of the family, she spoke her mind and at times was quite bold and rebellious. Despite being short, she was rather beautiful.
They met in secret a few times after their first encounter, and Honor fell in love with him. They agreed to get married, but a serious accident prevented them from fulfilling their plans and they followed their separate lives. However, they ended up meeting again at her sister Mary’s house in a moment particularly well penned. They had both changed, as it was to be expected. Nonetheless, the way in which they used to tease each other was still there, although in a more mature fashion.
Honor shows a great perception of Richard’s personality. He was capable of the most beautiful and the most despicable actions. So, I ended up both loving and loathing him.
“Faults that I had caught glimpses of in youth were now increased tenfold. His pride, his arrogance, his contempt for anyone’s opinions but his own – these were more glaring than they had ever been.”
Richard and Honor’s reunion was a consequence of the civil war that had broken out in England in 1642. Because of the war fought between the supporters of the King and of the Parliament, in 1644, Honor had to leave Lanrest, where she had been living alone with the servants since the death of her mother, and go to Menabily, her sister Mary’s house. It may seem that I’ve already told too much about the plot, but it’s only after this moment that a set of events starts to unfold until the fates of the characters are sealed.
Thanks to Honor moving to Menabily, the story gains a more mysterious tone, although there were moments of suspense before. A locked room arose Honor’s suspicions, after she listened to noises coming from there. The mystery is solved rather quickly, but the discovery she made is important later on.
During the chapters focusing primarily on the issues of war, I kept wanting more interactions between Honor and Richard. Nevertheless, we are offered some great reflections about the consequences of warfare.
“I knew then, as I peered forth from the curtains of my litter, that war can make beasts of every one of us, and that the men and women of my own breed could act even worse in warfare than the men and women of the eastern counties”.
The opening paragraphs of The King’s General are a great example of how Daphne du Maurier managed to describe landscapes and ambiances according with the feelings of the characters or the particular nature of events. However, the rest of the book is not as atmospheric. Its best assets are without a doubt the characters, which reveal great complexity, the addition of some elements of surprise throughout, and the emotional but unflustered ending.