It’s 1523 and ten years have passed since the armies of Scotland and England met at the Battle of Flodden, resulting in victory for the English and the death of King James IV of Scotland. With a child king (the young James V) and a regent who spends much of his time in France, Scotland lacks strong leadership and Henry VIII of England is taking advantage by ordering the destruction of Scottish border towns. The man responsible for doing this, as well as for keeping some sort of order in the lawless English and Scottish border lands is Thomas Dacre, Warden General of the English Marches.
Dacre is the most powerful man in the north, but he is also making a lot of enemies…including Adam Crozier, head of one of the leading families on the Scottish side of the border, who discovers that Dacre is to blame for the murder of his father. Crozier vows to take revenge and begins the process of forming alliances with other borderers and collecting evidence that will help to bring about the Warden’s downfall.
Dacre’s War is the sequel to After Flodden, Rosemary Goring’s first novel which describes the 1513 battle and its aftermath. I read After Flodden last year and thought it was a good book but nothing special, so I wasn’t sure whether or not to read this one. I am so glad I did decide to read it, because I loved it! The few criticisms I had of the first book (the confusing timeline and the predictability of the plot) were not problems for me this time; I thought this second book was more exciting, faster paced and just a stronger novel in general. If you have not read After Flodden yet, picking this one up first shouldn’t affect your enjoyment or understanding too much – while some of the characters are the same, it’s set ten years later and is a complete story with a beginning and an end.
About half of the story is told from the perspective of the Croziers and half from the Dacres’, although there are also a few chapters set within the Scottish and English courts. It would be easy just to accept Crozier as our hero and Dacre as our villain, but both characters are more complex than that. By allowing us to get inside Dacre’s head and see his point of view, he becomes a more fully developed character and we come to understand that, like most human beings, he is a mixture of good and bad. As well as Crozier and Dacre, there’s also an interesting cast of supporting characters, some new and some old – it was nice to see Louise and Hob again and I enjoyed watching Benoit Brenier going off and having adventures of his own.
My favourite thing about both Dacre’s War and After Flodden, though, is the setting. I love the way Rosemary Goring portrays life in the borders in the 16th century – the raids and feuds that made it such a dangerous place to live, as well as the natural beauty of the countryside. I will be happy if she revisits the world of the Croziers in a third novel, but if not then I’ll be interested to see what she chooses to write about next.