|After Flodden by Rosemary Goring|
|Category: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Ani Johnson|
|Summary: This may be a hist-fict featuring a girl with a twinkle of love story at the edges, but fellas, don't be put off. Our heroine is a vehicle transporting us to an era of fascination and turbulence that you may well enjoy.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: June 2013|
|Publisher: Polygon An Imprint of Birlinn Limited|
Scotland 1513: Louise Brenier believes her family to be cursed. Her father dead, her elder sister dying during childbirth as the result of an affair with King James IV and now her brother Benoit missing after the Battle of Flodden. It would be easy to believe Benoit dead too, but, whatever state he's in, Louise must know what happened. This is what drives her on a journey across a land ravaged by war, providing more challenges than answers and encounters with those for whom Flodden remains a recurring nightmare.
Rosemary Goring is another history academic, alongside the likes of V M Whitworth and Philippa Gregory, who can translate knowledge and research into a ripping yarn. Indeed Rosemary's non-fiction author credits are as impressive as the fact that After Flodden is her first novel.
If I had one minor niggle, it's that the romance is a bit formulaic for my tastes but there isn't that much of it. Think of it as a single weed in a flower meadow; it's surrounded by so much excellent stuff we can easily overlook it and still enjoy the vista. For Rosemary brings us texture, context and some heart-stopping fight scenes as the chapters distribute our time between Louise's present and the events leading up to Flodden; the largest battle fought between England and Scotland (and a bit of a rout, all things considered). Another good thing is that your enjoyment won't be tainted by knowing the outcome. Although that's public record, not all the characters' lives are historically documented which is where the uncertainty lies, but if you don't know how it all ends, wait till you've finished the book before 'search-engining' it for that added layer of unknowing.
The history weaves through the story beautifully as the fictional characters interact with the enthrallingly historic, and they don't come much more enthrallingly historic than James IV. Married to Henry VIII's sister, Margaret, he's a dichotomy shaped by 16th century standards. Devoutly religious, he insists on adding a chain link for each sin he commits to his girdle so he literally drags a heavy reminder of his past transgressions around with him while discarding the mothers of his bastards when they become pregnant. This may be seen as judging the past by modern standards, but, as we read in the Breniers' case, even at the time the women and their families weren't too pleased about it.
At the other end of the social scale, Alan Crozier, the Borderer clan leader has no allegiance to anyone and responsibility only for defending and feeding his people. He has no time for the rarefied privilege of royal courts on either side of the border but remains a staunch Scot.
Indeed, throughout the novel we're aware that this is a nation's story as well as a people's tale. Take, for instance, Berwick, a city that's been tug-of-warred between England and Scotland several times and is here portrayed as a melting pot of contradicting ideas and espionage.
The excitement of battle coalesces with some narrow escapes and some wonderful well-pitched gems of historic info as events are shaped into some cleverly constructed twists. There's some blood (it would be daft if there wasn't) but it's not that gruesome considering the brutality of the period.
If you'd like a bit of historic fiction to read in the sun that offers intellectual enrichment without us having to work for it and, just as importantly, with a narrative that refuses to talk down to us, look no further: you've found it.
If you've enjoyed this and want to read more about 16th century Scotland, we also recommend Turn of the Tide by Margaret Skea.
You can read more book reviews or buy After Flodden by Rosemary Goring at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy After Flodden by Rosemary Goring at Amazon.com.
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