Ross Poldark is sent to Paris on behalf of the British government to observe the political turmoil now that the French monarchy has been restored. Under the guise of being on holiday, Ross takes Demelza and their youngest children with him but the situation in France is far worse than anyone realised.
When Napoleon escapes from Elba, the French army defect to his cause, and the Poldarks must flee Paris before Napoleon reclaims the city. However, Ross and Demelza are separated and while Demelza escapes to London with the children, Ross is held captive by the French police who accuse him of espionage.
A desperate Demelza tries to use all of Ross’s political contacts to free him but since Napoleon has been declared an outlaw, the government aren’t in a position to negotiate. Luckily, Ross manages to escape on his own but he faces a desperate flight across France to reach the British lines in Belgium where his son, Jeremy, and his cousin, Geoffrey Charles, are with the army. By the time Ross arrives, the fighting is well underway and he is horrified by the carnage he is witnessing but that is nothing compared to the tragedy that is about to unfold.
The Twisted Sword is the eleventh book in the Poldark Saga following the adventures of the Poldark family and their neighbours in Cornwall. So much happens in this novel, it is going to be next to impossible to review it without revealing some major spoilers, so if you don’t want to know what happens, then don’t read any further.
Since The Twisted Sword brings Ross and Demelza back to the forefront, it is no accident this book is by far the best of the later books and it only serves to highlight how less interesting the next generation of characters really are. After more than a decade in Parliament, Ross is finally rewarded with a baronetcy, but the thought of having a title troubles him greatly as he has little regard for the aristocracy. Nevertheless, Ross is in no position to refuse as the title will serve him well during his mission to Paris where he immediately gets on the wrong side of some Bonapartists. Of course, Ross being Ross isn’t able to hide his contempt and it comes back to haunt him big style when he is arrested under suspicion of spying. I have to say I’ve missed this side of Ross and it’s a welcome return to his old ways.
The visit to Paris injects new life into these books and the ambience of the era is caught perfectly through the eyes of Demelza who sees straight to the heart of things in her own indomitable way. It is obvious the people of Paris have suffered greatly during the war years but they seem no better now that the king has been restored and there is a feeling of being stuck between two opposing regimes. While the lower classes are dealing with abject poverty, the upper classes are walking on eggshells as former Bonapartists walk freely amongst the Royalists. The danger escalates when Napoleon escapes and immediately makes his way back to France, and you have to ask yourself why the allies didn’t just execute him.
Demelza is at her pluckiest as she escapes with the children but she is wracked with guilt over abandoning Ross to his fate in Paris, but we all know Ross is made of stern stuff and he escapes fairly easily. When Ross finally makes it to the British in Belgium, he arrives barely in time for his son to die in his arms and the paragraphs are so heart wrenching, it is little wonder Ross equates his grief to a sword twisting in his heart. Before this moment, we got to spent time in the company of Jeremy and Cuby who were still very much in the honeymoon period of their marriage and were excited about the prospect of becoming parents. It seems a cruel twist of fate for Jeremy, getting everything he has ever wanted, only for it to be snatched away on the battlefield.
The loss of Jeremy is a heavy blow to everyone at Nampara, and the neighbouring villages, who had gotten to know the gentle young man with the big ideas. The grief is so palpable, you can almost touch it, and the writing is some of the best from the entire series. Jeremy’s death also seems to age the evergreen Demelza who is struggling to come to terms with everything but the arrival of the pregnant Cuby seems to bring her around and there is a truly touching scene in the parlour where Cuby reveals she’s putting on a brave face for everyone. The only person who can’t find any comfort in Cuby’s presence is Clowance who still blames her for Jeremy joining the army in the first place.
Clowance has her own problems though and the book has barely begun before a young man arrives on her doorstep claiming to be Stephen’s son. Clowance is dismayed when Stephen finally admits he has been married before, although he claims it was a marriage of convenience due to an unplanned pregnancy and he never lived with them as a family. Clowance is upset with Stephen for lying to her but her attention is soon diverted when he reveals his plans to build them their own house now that his business is doing so well. While work gets underway, the rug is pulled from under Stephen’s feet when George Warleggan decides to foreclose on the considerable loans his bank has given Stephen, mainly because George believes Stephen was involved in the coach robbery and needs to be punished. Facing the prospect of prison for unpaid debts, Stephen returns to his old privateering ways which puts his life in danger.
So, it is ironic that Stephen survives his escapades on the seas, only to be injured in a riding accident that eventually claims his life, leaving another young widow to mourn over a broken future. While Stephen seemed to have turned his life around, and had become a respected business man, you do not feel his loss as keenly as that of Jeremy, particularly when more of his lies are revealed.
The last chapters of The Twisted Sword are sombre ones as many of our characters re-evaluate their lives in the face of their own mortality. As Ross mourns his firstborn son, another young man is questioning his paternity but when Ross is approached for the truth, his grief is too raw to give Valentine the answers he is seeking. As the Poldarks face a bleak Christmas, the only joy comes with the early arrival of Jeremy’s child, a daughter, Noelle. However, she isn’t the only child to be born that Christmas and there is light relief when George Warleggan’s wife, Harriet, gives birth to twin girls, dashing any hopes George has of maintaining his legacy with a male heir. Harriet is the type of character who takes no prisoners and she obviously cares more for her animals than her husband but I love her devil may care attitude. George has definitely bitten off more than he can chew in this marriage but I can’t bring myself to feel any sympathy for him and I love his confrontations with Harriet.
The Twisted Sword has completely renewed my faith in the Poldark series, reminding me why I fell in love with these characters in the first place, however there is only one book left and I’m starting to feel bereft.