Northern England / Scotland
" ‘Sharp as quivering hares are the Flecks. We’ve eyes and ears for things other folk miss.' Much later, in the aftermath of the battle of Flodden, a young man finally understands his father’s words. The year is 1513. The place is North-East England. Tom Fleck, a downtrodden farm worker, but gifted archer, yearns to escape his masters. He unearths two objects that could be keys to freedom: a torque of ancient gold and a Tudor seal ring. He cannot know how these finds will determine his future. Rachel Coronel craves an end to her wanderings. When the torque comes to rest around the neck of this mysterious foreign woman, an odyssey begins which draws Tom Fleck into borderlands of belief and race. The seal ring propels Tom on a journey of self-knowledge that can only climax in another borderland, among the ‘flowers of the forest’ of Flodden Field. Here are Tudor kings and their nobles – their documented lives are rich material for writers – but now they play a minor part. This is the story of Tom Fleck, a penniless farm labourer, who shares his dwelling with cattle. He is fictional only because he leaves no record – his people live before the keeping of parish registers, so they make no marks on parchment and are lost to history. We find his rare surname in the register of St. Hilda’s church at Hartlepool: Baptisms 1596, September 19th: Christofer ye child of Willm. Fleck. Perhaps William heard tales of how his great grandfather Thomas loved a strange woman and stood with the army on the terrible battlefield of Flodden. This story brings him to life."
The unusual cover style initially caught my attention and I recognised the mountain silhouette of Roseberry Topping which was a familiar sight in my childhood. There are not many novels set in my part of England so I anticipated a good read.
The story begins in 1513 with an introduction to Tom Fleck, the eighteen-year-old hero whose parents have recently died, leaving him to care for his sister who unhappily appears to be dying.
Tom is a cowman, but he has a special skill as an archer, and it is this that gets him noticed. His adventures begin in a modest way when his dog, Meg, finds a gold ring that belongs to the York Herald. Attempting to return the ring to its owner takes Tom from Thornaby to Thirsk and then Durham and further north still where he is forcibly conscripted into the army heading to the border with Scotland and the great battle at Flodden Field.
The storyline is strong, with sub-plots aplenty; enmities and friendships, romances and disasters sit comfortably with details of country living and animal husbandry.
The characters are well described, differentiated and the language is suited to the social class of the speaker. I learned some wonderful new cuss words and oaths, and the dialects are delivered with a light hand. The words rang true of many a character I have known in the north of England. A great attraction is the almost lyrical description of the land and its wild creatures, and it was no surprise to discover that the author writes and publishes poetry.
The book has a slightly old-fashioned air that becomes part of its charm. It is something of a quest story where the young hero is beset by problems and sets out to make his fortune and by dint of honesty, kindness and courage meets his dreams.
Though the battle with the king of Scots is described, it is done without the “blood and guts” treatment that can be so off-putting to many readers. I recommend this tale for your delight.
Reviewed for Discovering Diamonds
© Jen Black