My husband bought me a whole stack of Daphne du Maurier books for my birthday. Over the years I’ve read Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier. But I wanted to read more of her books. The King’s General is set in 17th century Cornwall during the time of the English Civil War. Even though this book is called The King’s General, and he features as a character in the novel, the story is told from the point-of-view of Honor Harris.
When Honor is eighteen she is passionate, beautiful, reckless and the spoiled youngest daughter of a large family. She reminded me a bit of Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. Honor meets Sir Richard Grenville, a soldier who cares only for fighting and not about the feelings of those around him. Richard is a bit like Rhett Butler, only meaner, and he is dedicated to fighting for his king. He’s really not a likeable person but is a brilliant soldier. When Richard meets Honor something clicks. Her family is against any match between them and sends Honor home. Richard follows her and they meet in secret and eventually become engaged.
But then tragedy strikes days before their wedding and Honor sends Richard away. I won’t tell you what the tragedy is but it’s a good twist and changes Honor’s life forever. It’s rare to find a novel told from the point-of-view of a person in her situation.
Fifteen years later, war is breaking out over England and Honor goes to shelter with her sister at the Cornish estate of Menabilly. With England at war with itself, Honor and Menabilly’s occupants are about to touched by all the hardship that war brings. And Honor is going to come face to face with her former love again.
Daphne du Maurier lived at Menabilly when she wrote this novel, while her husband – a soldier – was away overseas. Many of the people and history of Menabilly are woven into Daphne’s narrative but most of the story is fiction. Menabilly is also the house which inspired Manderley in Daphne’s book Rebecca. Like in Rebecca, there are lovely descriptions of the Cornish landscape around Menabilly and once again there is a young woman in the thrall of an older, more sophisticated man. But Honor is different from the narrator in Rebecca. She is strong despite her circumstances and is the person her extended family comes to for advice. She knows that Richard is a flawed man with many faults but she loves him anyway.
Don’t read The King’s General thinking that it’s a lighthearted historical romance. It’s not. It’s mostly a book about a long-term relationship between two very different people during war. I felt this book started very strongly and got me hooked only to lose my interest a little in the middle. Luckily it had a strong ending. It was a bit meandering in parts but I still enjoyed it. I love how Daphne du Maurier writes. I’ve only ever read one series set during the English Civil War (the Wintercombe series) so it was interesting to read another book set during this time period.
Most of all I liked the character Honor. I don’t want to give away too much of a spoiler but I liked how despite the tragedy that happened to her, she is still a strong character with an adventurous spirit rather than letting what happened define her.
Verdict: If you’re a fan of Daphne du Maurier then give this book a read.
What’s your favourite Daphne du Maurier book?