BLOOD DIVIDE – Review by Phil Hodges

When Mark ‘The Ed’ Barnes at WHO HQ said he was sending me Something a little different in the post I feared the worst. Not another hand grenade, surely?

Anyway, after I let my wife open my post (just a precaution I use) something a little different turned out to be a novel based on the Battle of Flodden. The year is1513 to be exact in what was the bloodiest of battles to be fought on English soil between the English and Scots.

Now, Flodden is well documented enough; Scotland rushes headlong across the border to take on what was basically the ‘reservists’ of The English and Welsh armies (King Henry VIII was in France with the cream of his English knights and Welsh bowman scrapping the French in their own backyard). Scotland decides to break free from its ‘English masters’. Again. (Sounding familiar?).  The English and the Welsh give the Scots the hardest of slappings at Flodden and the bloodiest of noses to boot.

So what about the novel? Well, it’s kind of Mills & Boon meets Flashman. The book appears to be almost Shakespearean at first glance. A list of characters and their offerings to the story appears on page one and a hint of a play looms. Now, I’m no fan of Shakespeare; shock horror and to my American cousins reading this nor do I live near London or know the Queen (though I do wear a bowler hat to work). But, I was somehow drawn to this novel and I shall make this clear again; it is fictional. The characters who have a ‘part to play’ in the book are based on genuine historical people who were at or involved some way in the battle. Thomas Howard – Earl of Surrey, George Darcy or King James IV of Scotland (soon to be disembowelled) to name but a few. The story is based on exploits that are, in some cases, though by no means all, fictional. Confusing?

Think EastEnders in the 16th Century with all the grit and drama and violence and bed hopping and you’ll go some way to prepare yourself for this ripping yarn.

It’s well written, thoughtful and Sadler, a veteran of many historical novels, rumbles on with just enough historical background to keep you informed and enthused. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t written by a mere storyteller. Mr Sadler clearly knows his history and uses it to full effect. The descriptive text of uniforms and weaponry are spot on, even the colours and textures are described by an author with wisdom on his subject. Something you don’t always get, even with authors of factual historical books. It rushes headfirst from gory, laddish fight scenes to pre-battle nerves and then abruptly stops into more meandering subjects of verse or politics or genteel pastimes of love and passion. That said I couldn’t put it down and I marvelled  at every colourfully written chapter and verse.

You can smell the wet and damp soil, the sweat and the smoke . You can taste the earth and the blood on your lips and feel every fall and stumble. (Do not read this with sharp objects or hardwood furniture around you as you WILL hurt yourself whilst trying to re-enact the fight scenes). Ahem!

This book is one hell of a blistering read so be prepared to have scraped knuckles and bruised ribs as you feel every punch, sword blow and parry. As an experienced military book reviewer I was lucky, I escaped with just a black eye and one smashed light bulb in an over zealous bill hook lunge!

I totally enjoyed the style and pace of the book. It made a pleasant change from all the grit and drama and violence and bed hopping, etc, etc.

Blood and Divide by John Sadler: A right good rumbustious Christmas read.

Having read it I shall recuperate and await the TV mini-series that this book commands. Now to change those light bulbs!

Reviewed by Phil Hodges for War History Online.

A Novel of Flodden Field
By John Saddler
ISBN 978-1-78264-089-9

Phil Hodges

Phil Hodges is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE