This novel of the Scottish and English borders in the 16th century is the sequel to Goring’s debut, After Flodden. It is set ten years later and these are still turbulent times. Henry VIII’s man in the north is Thomas, Baron Dacre, overlord of the English marches. The increasingly powerful clan leader Adam Crozier is Dacre’s enemy. Dacre had ordered the murder of Crozier’s father, and now Crozier is seeking revenge.
Goring does not shy away from conveying the violence and murder that was carried out by both sides, yet it is never gratuitous. She also deftly weaves the threads of the political intrigue that was so characteristic of this place and time. Dacre’s trial at Cardinal Wolsey’s Star Chamber is as gripping as any thriller, as is his subsequent imprisonment. Mention should also be made of Goring’s use of language. It is richly evocative and at times near-poetic.
Both Dacre and Crozier are portrayed as multi-dimensional characters. They each have their own deeply personal narrative which draws the reader in. The devotion of Blackbird, Dacre’s personal servant, to his master, is subtle, credible and touching. Crozier’s troubled relationship with his wife, Louise, is deeply moving and sheds light on the perilous lot of women, too. The ending, for both characters, is beautifully executed.
There is a passage in the book where Dacre is trying to convince Wolsey that (and I paraphrase) “things are different up in the borders”. This novel explores that difference and that world. It is one that is well worth discovering. Highly recommended.