For the last couple of months, I have been living with another family: the Lyttons. And I have enjoyed it immensely.
What I call the Lytton trilogy has been called "The Spoils of Time" by its author, Penny Vincenzi. The series consists of No Angel, Something Dangerous and Into Temptation. It's a hefty trilogy, and not a quick read — which is good because it's too good to get through quickly. (Each book runs about 700 pages, so it's not a quick or light anything.)
It's a take-no-prisoners book. Once you start, you really can't stop. You read to the bitter end, even if that's 3 a.m. on a Sunday Before An Important Presentation or Meeting. It is too compelling a story to put down, really. Carole already had read the series, and she received many phone calls from me in which I didn't even bother to breathe for what seemed like minutes ("Hey Carole! Celia just...."). I got to enjoy it again as Carole and I discussed it, and it was wonderful having someone with whom to gasp and laugh.
Vincenzi knows how to tell a tale. She weaves a rich tapestry, using just enough thread to snag a reader — then shuttling another storyline into place just enough to ensnare the reader, then she gives another character a moment before seamlessly taking the reader back to the first thread. And yet they all matter, all touch in multiple places — single threads that, if cut, would unravel the rug on which the reader sits.
The saga centers on a family headed by Lady Celia, and we spend more than half a century watching this family and its matriarch. The characters are rich and deep, fully imagined and fun (though sometimes maddening) to read.
Celia is a pretty determined person, and her first act as a character defines this character: she is getting married. To a man her parents do not want her to marry. At a younger age than they would prefer. Well, such little things never stopped Celia, even in 1909 — and, as we shall see, she faces down a few more formidable obstacles than this in her lifetime. Like having children, or not. War. Love. Truth. Fascism. Oh, and publishing.
Celia has married into a publishing family. Lyttons is a somewhat small, but respected, member of the book publishing community in London. Celia is enraptured by it, and she shows great talent and instinct. *sigh* If only her husband would let her work in the family firm. This is, after all, 1909, and times are different.
Only, really, they're not. Celia has many of the issues today's women face: family, love, home, work, duty, marriage, charity, honor.... and Celia faces each with her own style.
For example, she wants to make London, if not the whole world, a better place, so she signs on to assist in a study of impoverished families. She is "assigned" the Millers: the mother always pregnant, the father always working, the children tied to table legs to keep them from underfoot until they can be sent outside to take care of themselves, for the most part. Celia starts taking care of the family, rather than merely "studying" it, and winds up leaving one day with one of its young members to be raised in her own home — only temporarily, so what could it hurt....?
The publishing house into which she has married is a character in itself. Truly, without it, this might have just been another multi-generational saga. However, booklovers will enjoy this added feature, a publishing company with a heart.
Much happens in Celia's life, and beyond: two world wars, countless births, a multitude of scandals, lots of misunderstandings, marriages and divorces, deaths that you wish will never come (and some you think will not come soon enough), tragedies, woundings, survival — and a ride through London during the Blitz that will leave readers literally breathless.
More than once I had to press the book to my heart to calm myself down. One scene in particular I was glad I was alone when I read because I startled the cats with my sobs. I took a two-week break during the third book because I was so disgusted by one character's actions (and another's reactions) and I couldn't bear the situation. Honestly, I did not care for the way she resolved one set of character's situation; Celia would have disavowed this romantic notion, but I I trust Vincenzi, and there was some logic to the resolution (even if I didn't like it).
Vincenzi does not write brief stories. I also have read Sheer Abandon, which also is a taut thrilling ride — and hefty book (the paperback was inches thick!).
I am, and plan to remain, a real Vincenzi fan. Once you try her, you will be a fan as well.