Category: 17th Century Historical Fiction, Book Review
Violence, greed and betrayal threaten the remote communities of East Anglia in the seventeenth century, when ruthless and unscrupulous speculators steal their common lands, while fanatic Puritans bring accusations of heresy and witchcraft.
I love fictional stories set against true historical facts. Flood tells the story of Fenlanders in 17th century East Anglia whose hard working but peaceful way of life is compromised by those who believe they are entitled to profit by whatever means necessary.
Mercy Bennington, her parents and brother farm on the Norfolk Fens, as have generations of their ancestors. Fifteen years ago, before the war, her grandfather lead an attack against the drainage works that were damaging the largest area of the Fens. Now livelihoods are being threatened again under Cromwell’s government. This puritanical and sombre regime endangers not only the delicate balance of life on the Fens but also the Fenlanders very existence, through drainage and commandeering their land, crops and livestock. In addition, the new laws forbid people marrying in church or baptizing their children and dreadful punishments are meted out to those found defying the Puritan rules.
In a moment of silence I remembered what had happened in Suffolk. Beautiful windows of ancient glass smashed to powder. Ancient statues of the Virgin and the saints, which had survived the other Cromwell’s destruction, decapitated. Altars axed to splinters. Altar rails thrown on bonfires.
As the men are brought in to drain the land, with no care for the consequences to the village, its inhabitants or the environment, Mercy, her family and friends resort to desperate measures which threaten not only the family, but also the villagers. Flood is told from Mercy’s first person perspective, so it’s very easy to feel sympathy for the untenable position the Fenlanders find themselves in, and justify their reactions.
People not only have to deal with the destruction of their lands, property and lifestyle but also the growing threat of being charged with witchcraft. The witch-finder Matthew Hopkins, along with his second in command, travel the country, spreading panic and following up on accusations caused by villagers turning against each other for the flimsiest of reasons.
With wonderful attention to detail, Ann Swinfen’s rich descriptions of village life and the remote beauty of the fens conjure up vivid images of an area and lifestyle I knew next to nothing about. The narrative is engrossing, researched and written extremely well, perfectly evoking a time of oppressive government rule and uncertainty. Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction and those that just like a cracking story.
‘It seems they can do what they please. Was not the War fought to overthrow the tyranny of a king? It seems tyranny still stalks the land.’ ~ Mercy Bennington
Ann Swinfen spent her childhood partly in England and partly on the east coast of America. She read Classics and Mathematics at Oxford, where she married a fellow undergraduate, the historian David Swinfen. While bringing up their five children and studying for an MSc in Mathematics and a BA and PhD in English Literature, she had a variety of jobs, including university lecturer, translator, freelance journalist and software designer.
Her Fenland Series takes place in East Anglia during the seventeenth century. In the first book, Flood, both men and women fight desperately to save their land from greedy and unscrupulous speculators. The second, Betrayal, continues the story of the dangerous search for legal redress and security for the embattled villagers, at a time when few could be trusted.
She now lives on the northeast coast of Scotland, with her husband (formerly vice-principal of the University of Dundee), a rescue cat called Maxi, and a cocker spaniel called Suki.