by Margaret Redfern
Reviewed by Margaret Donsbach
King Edward I of England began constructing a castle at Flint on the northernmost boundary between Wales and England in 1277 when he made war against Llywelyn, the last Prince of independent Wales. With his military force, Edward brought an army of conscripted peasants to dig the castle's defensive ditches and banks.
Flint is about two of these ditch-diggers, brothers from the fenland in eastern England (where, perhaps not incidentally, Hereward had based his stubborn opposition to the Normans two centuries before). Ned, the elder brother, is gentle but odd. He plays haunting music on a pipe made of bone from a swan's wing. Since he speaks in a gabble only his almost-eleven-year-old brother Will can understand, most people think him daft. "They were the daft ones. Ned knew everything, more than anybody I've ever known, then or since." "Look out for him," the boys' mother keeps telling Will, and when Ned is swept up with the ditch-diggers, Will must go along, taking his responsibility earnestly to heart. Only later does he discover how much he, too, did not understand about Ned.
Narrated by an older Will, Flint is a poetic tale of brotherly love, conflicting allegiances and discovery. It is not about politics in high places, but about its impact on people who follow the rhythms of life close to the land and who understand only dimly, if at all, the political decisions that can utterly disrupt those rhythms. Readers who like to feel well anchored in historical time and place will find it helpful to know, before picking up this novel, a few basics about British geography and the medieval wars between England and Wales. The story (usually in first person, sometimes in third) holds fast to Will's viewpoint, vague in political awareness but deep and true in feeling and spiritual attunement. "The real stars ... are singing inaudibly, endlessly, in the cosmos that stretches to infinity over the flat fens. Tonight, if you listen hard." (2009, 195 pages)
More about Flint from Powell's Books
Other novels about medieval English peasants:
Hodd by Adam Thorpe (2009), about a boy kidnapped by an outlaw (inspired by the earliest ballad about Robin Hood). See Review or listing at Powell's Books
Down the Common by Ann Baer (1997), about a peasant woman in an isolated English village. See Review or listing at Powell's Books
The Confession of Jack Straw by Simone Zelitch, listing at Amazon.com
Nonfiction about the English fens, and King Edward I's Welsh wars:
From Punt to Plow: A History of the Fens by Rex Sly (2003). More info
The Welsh Castles of Edward I by Arnold J. Taylor (1986). More info
The Welsh Wars of Edward I by John E. Morris (1969), More info
Website of Wicken Fen, one of the last undrained fens in the English fenland.
Photographs and information on Flint Castle at www.CastleWales.com
"King Edward I: Invasion of Wales" article from Military History Magazine at www.HistoryNet.com
Back to Medieval: Edward I section
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