I love epic novels. I especially love epic novels when they are part of a series. In the case of No Angel, by Penny Vincenzi, the story is the first of a multigenerational trilogy. Seriously, I couldn’t ask for anything more. No Angel is the strongly readable beginning of the story of the Lytton family, focusing on its matriarch Lady Celia Beckenham Lytton.
Lady Celia is strong-willed and knows how to get her way. Her stubborn spirit is demonstrated early when she purposely gets pregnant so as to marry Oliver Lytton, the son of a middle-class publishing family, and not her wealthy parents’ first choice in husbands in the early years of the 20th century. Yet, though she loves her son Giles, Celia is strongly drawn to her husband’s world of publishing, where, through intelligence and strength of spirit, she helps guide the business to enormous success.
The Lyttons are happily married and things are going well until Oliver leaves to serve in World War I, and comes back a shell of himself. His distance results in enormous changes in the lives of the Lyttons and creates an interesting story line.
Vincenzi, a British author with whom I was totally unfamiliar, has the skills to create interesting characters and highly readable plot lines. As an example, despite Celia’s clearly apparent flaws, in the hands of the author, she is eminently likable and sympathetic. The same can be true of all of her characters, at least in this first book in the series.
I also think that Vincenzi does a wonderful job of painting a clear picture of London and New York City in the years just before, during, and after World War I. In particular, in the author’s able hands, readers can easily see just how difficult it was for not only the men who fought in the war, but for the women who had taken a strong role in the work force during those years and are suddenly forced to step back once again upon the return of the male workers. At the same time, their husbands, brothers, fathers, and other loved ones were returning broken men.
I loved this book so much that despite its length, I read it in a couple of days. What’s more, I immediately purchased the second in the series (Something Dangerous) because I can’t wait to see just how the generation following Celia and Oliver handle the problems that begin mounting as the world approaches another major war.
No Angel is a very good book, and I highly recommend it to lovers of epic fiction.