Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Bastard by John Jakes

The Bastard by John Jakes published in 1974 is a book that's been stored away in my kindle for some time.  It's the first novel in Jakes' bestselling Kent Family Chronicles series.  Eight books which takes the fictional Kent Family and their descendents from the 1770's to the 1890's.  Family saga novels can be alot of fun.  Throw in some American history, which is what this series does, and it can be an educational experience as well.

And so, when The Bastard begins it is 1770.  Philippe Charbonneau (who will later change his name to Phillip Kent) is a young man living in Auvergne France with his mother Marie.  Philip has grown up never knowing his father but when he turns seventeen Marie decides to tell him.  Philip is the son of Lord James Amberly, a member of the British aristocracy.  Marie met Lord Amberly years ago when she was an actress performing on the Paris stage.  A member of the aristocracy could never marry an actress and so their affair ended.  Lord Amberly returned to England and Marie stayed in Paris to raise their son Philip on her own.  But Lord Amberly gives Marie a copy of his will stating that upon his death Philip will share half of Lord Amberly's estate with his other son Roger.  When Lord Amberly dies Marie and Philip head to England to claim the inheritance.  Needless to say Lord Amberly's wife and son Roger are not pleased.  Roger goes one step further in trying to have his half brother killed.

The Amberly's are a powerful family and it is not safe for Philip and Marie to remain in England.  Going back to France holds no appeal either.  They decide to leave for the colonies.  Marie in poor health doesn't survive the crossing.  Philip makes it to America landing in Boston, the epicenter of rebellion against the British Crown.  As the novel progresses Philip will get a job at a printing press and find himself in the thick of it as he encounters Sam Adams, Paul Revere, Dr Joseph Warren.  He falls in love with Anne Ware, a spirited young woman who supports American independence.  But Philip is torn.  Should he make his home in this new land with its uncertain future or keep the promise he made to his mother which would involve returning to England and fighting for his inheritance?

I enjoyed The Bastard.  The characters are well drawn and John Jakes has done an impressive job of research regarding what was happening during the lead up to the American Revolution and who the key historical figures were.  Ultimately this is the story of a young man (Philip Kent) who thought he was destined for wealth and security only to discover that his life would take a very different turn.  Philip Kent sits at the start of what will go on to be the Kent Family's story in America.  The fun of a series like this is to learn in future novels who Philip's children, grand children, great great grand children will turn out to be, what their lives will be like and what events in American history will be taking place around them.  This series ends in 1890 and though I wish John Jakes had been able to take these books into the 20th century, I am grateful he took the series as far as he did and so I do recommend The Bastard.