So last year I found the literary equivalent of the biggest box of the tastiest bon-bons ever.
Best reading experience of 2014: Hello, Poldark!
Also known as the Poldark Saga, written by Winston Graham (incidentally, I'm not linking to the Wikipedia page on the series because there are spoilers there). The first book, Ross Poldark, was published in 1945, and the last book in the series (#12!), Bella Poldark, was published in 2002. Somewhere in the middle of the series' run, a very popular BBC series, also titled "Poldark," ran from 1975 to 1977.
On the surface of the matter, the Poldark series looks like just another historical fiction saga. Set in Cornwall during the years of 1783 through 1820, it follows the fortunes of one Ross Poldark,* a Cornish squire who returns from the American Revolutionary War (so strange for an American like me to think of British soldiers returning home from that) to find that his father is dead, his ancestral home is in a shambles, and the woman, Elizabeth, to whom he thought he was engaged, is preparing to marry his cousin Francis. Hilarity does not ensue, but an entire Cornish soap opera does: over the course of the series, the relationships between Ross and Francis and Elizabeth, and then Ross and Demelza (a woman about ten years his junior, who he first rescues from a too-rowdy country fair and then employs as a kitchen maid), and then Ross and his family and George Warleggan (a local banker and self-made man, and Poldark's arch-nemesis).
The plot is not really the point. As noted: it's pure soap opera. But the characters are notable: Ross is one of those noble souls who sticks his neck out for the little guy (incidentally, I've noticed this sort of thing usually turns out a lot better in fiction than it does in real life) and inspires both strong loyalty and strong antipathy, and Demelza? Well, Demelza is a revelation. She puts up with too much from Ross but other than that I simply LOVED THE HELL OUT OF HER. Even Graham's female characters who I did not like (Elizabeth chief among them) ended up inspiring something like respect from me. And although their stories were intertwined with the mens', they seemed to have their own inner lives and did not serve primarily to "reveal glimpses" into the souls of the male characters. What a treat that was, for a change.
There's lots of other good stuff in the series; there's a lot in it about mining that I found interesting (and which gave me a lot to think about when I later read the book Blood Diamonds, also about mining in Great Britain), and even the storylines about the poorer characters in the books held my interest.
I'm ashamed to tell you what I all neglected while I plowed through all twelve books in this series.** The house went uncleaned for weeks, I made some horrible ready-made meals, and I let CRjr and CR3 tackle each other until (inevitably) too much ha-ha led to boo-hoo. But oh, it was time deliciously spent. So worth it. Right around Christmas time I realized I had forgotten to request the next book I needed in the series from the library it time to take it along to my in-laws', where we stayed for a couple of days, and I actually felt despair at having to pause in my reading.
It was a thoroughly great reading experience, and I'll always think fondly on 2014 for it.*** I also look forward to waiting a few years and then re-reading the entire run of books. AND, total bonus, soon I'll get to see an updated TV version, thanks to the BBC. Awesome.
*Every time I say his name I follow it with a catchphrase I enjoyed from the otherwise entirely forgettable Ewan McGregor movie "Down with Love": "Ross Poldark: ladies' man, man's man, man about town."
**I almost never read series fiction. I might read the first book in a series just to see what it's about, but very rarely do I make it through ALL the books.
***Incidentally, if you know of readers who enjoyed the cult classic The Cowboy and the Cossack, I think this series, or even just the first book in the series, might be a good readalike for that book.