The Favored Child by Philippa Gregory is the second book in the Incestuous Gentry Folk saga that started with Wideacre (my review). Beatrice and Harry's two children, Julia and Richard, are being raised as cousins. This is the first indication that things are going to get weird because while sibling-love is a no-no, cousin-loving is a-okay at this time. Plus, Julia says uncomfortable things like, "how I looooove Richard. He is so wonderful. We'll get married and take care of Wideacre together." Unfortunately, even though she doesn't know that he is her brother/cousin, she also can't see that he is a big jerk.
They live in the Dower House on the Wideacre property with their Mama-Aunt Celia (I didn't make that one up) because the big house was burned down when Beatrice went crazy and ruined everything. They're relatively poor but not as poor as the people of Acre who have their children taken away to work in factories. They have hope though. The village is waiting for "The Favored Child" of Beatrice's blood to make everything better. Since Richard is the official child of Beatrice, he would be the obvious choice. However, the villagers hate that guy because he is a big jerk and also animals hate him, which if you watch horror movies is a bad sign. Julia, on the other hand, loves the land and is nice to people and animals so everyone wants her to be the new squire. Also, she inherited the Lacey Land Lust and thinks Wideacre is the Bestest Place on Earth.
|Richard: The Horror!!!|
Richard does not like being in second place so he makes Julia miserable with his bullying, telling her not to put herself forward because it's unwomanly and who does she think she is anyway. Instead of punching him in the face, she cries and says, "Yes, Richard. Whatever you want" which turns him into a bigger jerk. Celia is completely oblivious to all these goings on since she's busy stitching the linens together.
This section is a little spoilery but really it only takes you to the half-way point in the book.
Then Richard's "Dad", John, returns from India with enough money to get Wideacre out of the hole, build a new house, grow crops and buy the family nice things again. Yay! Everything is coming up roses! Too bad it didn't end there. John hires Ralph Megson as the property manager, not knowing that he was The Culler from the last book who brought Beatrice to her doom. Ralph tells Julia who he is and she's all, "oh no!" but doesn't tell anyone because the villagers trust him and she doesn't want to rock the boat. Ralph is not a bad guy for a murderer though. He has a feeling about Julia and when she gets The Sight and saves the village he is in her corner. Unfortunately, Julia's family is not too keen on her new found talent and send her off to Bath where she has a nice normal life for a little while. All good things must come to an end and when she returns to Wideacre the shit hits the fan.
*******End of Spoiler********
Oh Ms. Gregory, you know how to spin a crazy yarn! I didn't think things could be loonier than Wideacre but The Favored Child tops it. It's like you kept thinking up horrible things to happen and threw them in the plot. It is horrifyingly fascinating. I enjoyed it very much.
Like most of Gregory's other novels, The Favored Child is loooooong crammed with detail of the lives of the Wideacre folk. I thought it could have been about 100 pages shorter. I was getting tired of Julia's misery and anxious for the end. However, even though it was long, it was well written. I think she was at her peak when she wrote this.
Poor deluded Julia. She could have avoided so much if she had told someone she suspected Richard was a psychopath. Instead, she made excuses for him. And the adults. Hello, get a clue people. A little talk of the "your cousin is your brother" kind would have helped. How in the world could Celia live with these kids 24/7 and not feel what way the wind was blowing? She was in complete denial.
I'm looking forward to the last in this series, Meridon to find out how things are going to turn out for the last of the Lacey family but think I need a little break from Gregory's wordiness.
Recommended if you've read Wideacre- you need to read this too.