“You don’t know the law, my clever little cousin. If they commit you to an asylum, you are disinherited at once. Did you not know that, my dear? If you go on with your seeings and your dreamings, you will lose everything.”
The second part in Wideacre’s sprawling historical epic follows the two Lacey heirs, Richard and Julia. As the competition to gain control of the land and the love of the people who work it grows more intense, Julia discovers that it is tragedy, not power, which is the true Lacey inheritance.
All the characters in The Favoured Child are either wilfully evil or idealistic to the point of being self-destructive. The heroine, Julia, begins pretty meek and timid (as you would be if you’d spent your childhood being harassed by your cousin/brother). As she is brought into society, Julia’s confidence grows, and she becomes torn between the conventional world of her upbringing and her almost mystical connection to the land. It’s an interesting, if well-worn, exploration of the narrowly defined roles which women of that era were expected to subscribe to.
Standing at over 600 pages, this is the longest book I’ve tackled this year. And while the length is expected for a family saga (you need space for all those murders, betrayals and incest, after all), I didn’t always feel the book justified its size. Plot and character points (‘Richard is evil’, ‘Julia has a connection to the land which is suuuuper deep and mystical’) tended to be telegraphed pretty obviously the first time around. So did they really need to be repeated over and over again?
Although I would never deny that Julia suffers very graciously throughout the novel, I did find myself getting frustrated with her doormat qualities. I often found myself at least three paces ahead of her because she seemed incapable of reading anyone else’s motivations. It would have helped her character significantly if Richard had initially been more likeable, and only slowly turned against her as the competition for control of Wideacre became more intense. At least then the reader would understand why she was painfully blind to his many (many) flaws.
Conversely, I did very much enjoy the sweep of the story, which brought the Laceys from eighteenth century excess to Regency delicacy. Taking in the turmoil of social change across England and the rise and fall of the aristocratic Laceys (again), The Favoured Child is an overly-long but compelling second instalment in the Wideacre trilogy.