In The Forest, Edward Rutherfurd, whose greatly admired Sarum and London have captivated millions of readers, now unfolds the saga of nine turbulent centuries in the life of the quintessential English heartland: the New Forest.
The New Forest lies in a vast bowl scooped from England's southern coast. To its west runs the river Avon, from Sarum to the harbor at Christchurch, and to its east the port of Southampton. In the heart of the New Forest itself, some one hundred thousand acres of forest and heath sweep down to the Solent water and the Isle of Wight and overlook the English Channel just beyond.
From the time of the Norman Conquest to the present day, the New Forest has remained a mysterious, powerful, almost mythical place. It is here that Saxon and Norman kings rode forth with their hunting parties, and where William the Conqueror's son Rufus was mysteriously killed. The mighty oaks of the forest were used to build the ships for Admiral Nelson's navy, and the fishermen who lived in Christchurch and Lymington helped Sir Francis Drake fight off the Spanish Armada. The New Forest is the perfect backdrop for the families who people this epic story -- a story that makes clear the connections between the dark, dangerous, sensuous life of the primeval forest and the genteel life of Georgian and Regency society.
There are well-born ladies and lowly woodsmen, sailors and smugglers, witches and Cistercian monks, who live in the lovely abbey of Beaulieu. The Forest's Lady Adela is the cousin of Walter Tyrrell, who is blamed for the death of Rufus, son of the Conqueror. There is Brother Adam of Beaulieu, who is content with his service to God until a poaching incident puts him in contact with an intriguing young woman named Mary Furzey. There is the merchant Totton family of the harbor town of Lymington, and the Penruddocks and Lisles of Moyles Court. The feuds, wars, loyalties, and passions of many hundreds of years reach their climax in a crime that shatters the decorous society of Bath in the days of Jane Austen.
Edward Rutherfurd is a master storyteller whose sense of place and of character -- whether fictional or historical -- is at its most vibrant in The Forest. Like Sarum and London, it is a gripping novel of living history.
Though the geographic landscape is rich, Rutherfurd rarely generates enough focus and excitement to sustain interest in the mundane anecdotes he strings together..
Rutherfurd has always used his characters more as placeholders in history than as living human beings, but those in The Forest are particularly one-dimensional. That, plus the annoyingly Michener-like didactic tone of the narrative, makes this a hard book to recommend, even for fans of Rutherfurd. Still, readers looking for a fictional overview of English history will find it here in spades.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Tom M
An informative and entertaining read. Long but you cannot get too much of a good thing!
A spellbinding saga on a truly epic scale that brings to life Brazil and her history. A masterpiece Brazil has the look and feel of an enchanted virgin forest, a totally new and original world for the reader-explorer to discover.
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