Monday, February 23, 2015

Blood Divide: A Novel of Flodden Field by John Sadler

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Read: February 11, 2015

Gripping, visceral, and accessible historical fiction. The Battle of Flodden in September 1513 was one of the bloodiest battles ever fought on British soil, in which James IV, King of Scots, and virtually the whole of his nobility and gentry were annihilated in an afternoon along with 15,000 soldiers. Five centuries later, the slaughter still occupies a core position in the Scottish nationalist debate and in the pantheon of heroic failures. This novel puts you in the heart of the action; you'll feel the sweat and the fear, the curtain of red mist. The narrative covers April through September 1513, focusing around a handful of key characters: John Heron, Bastard of Ford, swaggering, violent, and disreputable, the black sheep of a good English family; Sir Thomas Howard, leader of the English forces and skilled strategist; Alexander, 3rd Lord Hume, leader of the Scots, bold but impetuous; Isabella Hoppringle, Abbess of Coldstream, hub of a web of influential women throughout the Scottish borders, a woman of significant influence and charisma. Laced with dark humor and fascinating period detail, Blood Divide reminder readers that political intrigue and human folly are timeless.

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I knew I'd be reading John Sadler's Blood Divide the moment I stumbled over it. Being a sucker for Scottish history, I'd love to say I was captivated by the premise, but I am honest enough to admit I'm shallow and my initial interest was in fact sparked be the cover art. I know it doesn't really matter, but somewhere there's a jacket designer who is happy their work is being appreciated so let's not debate my offering recognition as part of my review.

In terms of content, I loved how comprehensive Blood Divide felt. Sadler has an amazing understanding of the Battle of Flodden and tackles it from a variety of angles which is something I found particularly interesting. More often than not, readers enjoy a single perspective of any given event and I was pleasantly surprised to see an author tackle both sides of conflict from multiple points of view. 

That said, I couldn't help wanting more from John, Thomas, Alexander and Isabella. I don't mean to split hairs because a lot of the material is really well-done, but I felt character development took a backseat to the politics and grim realities of war. I know I'm nitpicking and I don't mean to overly critical, but there it is. 

All told, Blood Divide is an impeccably researched piece that proved well-worth my time. Rough edges aside, it is a title I'd easily recommend alongside Anvil of God or Sebastian's Way.

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Dead kings on the battlefield look pretty much like everyone else- stripped naked and flung aside in the mass anonymity of violent death.
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