Tired from a grim war in America, Ross Poldark returns to his land and his family. But the joyful homecoming he has looked forward to turns sour, for his father is dead, his estate is derelict, and the girl he loves is engaged to his cousin.
I’m one of those people who saw the show before reading the books, so I didn’t know how happy I was going to be with the source material. It turns out that the first book in the Poldark series is a bit of a slow burn at first, but before you know it you’ve been drawn into this little corner of Cornwall, and you care about the characters too much to put it down.
Ross Poldark, a man of twenty-seven (though the story covers a number of years), returns home to Cornwall, England, after fighting in the American Revolution. The woman he loves is marrying his cousin, and his property is crumbling.
There are too many characters to get into, but no doubt a lot of new fans of the books are in it for Demelza. This is where the show deviates from the books a bit, because when we meet Demelza in the book, she is a child (and a dark-haired one; why do the TV versions always make her a redhead?).
Apart from the eventual (not when she’s a child!) relationship between Ross and Demelza, I just love her character so much. Apparently she was based on the author’s wife, and maybe this is why she’s such a fun, funny, well-drawn character. I honestly don’t understand why Ross spends the whole series pining over the other woman, Elizabeth (another character who is different in the book), when all she has over Demelza – a servant girl who grew up in poverty – is refinement.
Perhaps because this is not a romance, the moments we are given here and there between various couples seem all the more realistic and romantic for it. He also shows ten times better than most the horrors of attempting to move between one social class and another. This is too often romanticised.
Author Winston Graham writes about a woman’s lot in life in Georgian England better than most women writing historical romance. He also seems to have a lot more sympathy for these women, in a situation where they were faced with a baby a year for a few decades, and has much more liberal views on their rights than a lot of women today (this book was written in the 1940s!).
There are twenty-thousand characters in this story, but the ones that matter are all great. Somehow the author manages to give them all story arcs without having them take over the book, and I cared about a lot of them. It is a bit hard to decipher some of the lower class-speak, though. It’s written phonetically, and sometimes I gave up trying to understand it!
One thing that didn’t hold my interest as much was some of the scenes with the mining talk. Business talk is boring to me. I also thought that there were too many characters in a few parts. I didn’t even try and keep track of who was who.
It’s not a perfect book, but I found it completely addictive by the end and immediately started book two.
Give it a go, and definitely watch the new show.
Review copy provided by NetGalley.