Rosemary Goring’s powerful sequel to her critically acclaimed debut After Flodden is set in the tumultuous borderlands of Scotland and England.
Dacre’s War is a story of personal and political vengeance at the heart of the power struggle. It has been a decade since the battle at Flodden and the unrest is rife in the Borders.
Our protagonist Adam Crozier is head of his clan and engaged in a powerful alliance with the Borderers. When he learns beyond doubt that Lord Thomas Dacre – the English overlord of the English portion of the region – ordered his father’s death, he immediately decides upon revenge.
Baron Dacre, Lord of the Marches, is both the predator and the prey: relentlessly abusing his power to suppress the borderlands and yet at the mercy of Henry VIII and the enforcement cog of the Tudor machine: Cardinal Wolsey.
It is in this context that Crozier seeks out the enemies of Dacre, both English and Scots, in a bid to inform King Henry of the crimes of his Northern Warden. He plans to turn the machinery of the English court against Dacre, engineering his downfall.
The portrayal of King Henry VIII as an enigmatic, distant and complicated king is historically accurate as well as brilliantly composed. Henry is one of England’s most famous kings and this fresh perspective of him is refreshing.
Wild and charismatic clansmen clashing swords with rich powerful English lords is an all too familiar theme, verging on overused, but Goring’s novel uniquely engages in the personal elements of political revenge, bringing to life a land where there is never any chance of peace. The serenely quiet start to the novel, as Crozier rides through his lands, dreaming nostalgically of a golden childhood in a land now torn by war and unrest, is quickly superseded by a violence and fear so potent it seems to invite you in.
And it brings to life, too, the uniquely beautiful landscape of the Borders. Its quiet river pools and pungent wild garlic soon become as familiar to us as they are to Crozier. We are transported freely between lavish descriptions of the untamed landscape of the Borders and its equally untamed people.
The plot itself is ingeniously complex, to the point that it can be difficult to follow, though complexity allows the intricacy of detail we have come to expect from a Goring novel thanks to her dazzling debut, After Flodden.
Throughout the book you will find yourself driven to discover the fate of the main characters and at no point will you be certain of what might happen to them.
This novel was clearly a labour of love, meticulously researched and giving the impression that the tale is known so well to the author that it is a story told, and not a story made-up.
Dacre’s War, by Rosemary Goring, published by Polygon Books, £14.99.