Reviewed by: L. Greg Graham for “Historical Novel Review” April 2011. http://historicalnovelreview.blogspot.com/2011/04/tom-fleck-by-harry-nicholson.html
Every once in a great while the lucky reader finds a book that he wants to go on forever. Tom Fleck is such a book. A good historical novel takes the reader into a world that he knows little of and allows him to walk around in someone else’s life. A very good novel makes the reader want to live there. This novel transports the reader to the windswept pastures and fens of northeast England at the time of the Battle of Flodden. At first, 16th century England appears to be a well ploughed field until you discover that Henry VIII and his many wives assert no royal prerogatives here, and Elizabeth launches no fleets of plucky Englishmen to fend off the Spanish Armada. Instead, we live with common men trying to survive one of the bloodiest battles in English history.
This is the story of a landless cowherd working the less than bountiful lands of a minor lord in the north of England. His goal in life is to own a few acres so that he can pasture his own cattle and live in a house with a roof that does not leak on him and his sister. What are his assets? He’s a pretty good shot with a longbow, he has a gold piece that he dug out of an ancient burial mound, and he has a dog that does a good job of running down rabbits and retrieving them. I have no intention of summarizing the plot. Why spoil the fun of going along with Tom on his ride up to the borderlands?
I will say however, that I have always held a fascination for the borderlands between England and Scotland during the 15th and the 16th century. In many ways, these people are much more the cradles of American democracy than any documents signed by King John at Runnymede. The attitudes these northerners hold are the same as those found in America a century later: advancement should be based upon skill and drive rather than on birth right; the absolute rejection of the belief that one’s station in life is determined at birth; self reliance, and a general distrust of authority.
Harry Nicholson could easily have set this story on the frontier in 18th century America. He wouldn’t have even had to change the names. Those border clans basically peopled America over the next century bringing with them their drive and spirit.
Nicholson’s descriptions are exquisite. His love for the land comes through on every page. This novel is practically a tribute to the landforms, the fauna and the flora of northeast England. The author treats the reader to the trills of the larks, and the ‘pee-wit’ cries of the plovers. We see the forget-me-nots, the speedwells, and the eyebright that grow along the lanes. During the Battle of Flodden, the author takes the time to describe a covey of partridge scared up by the sound of the cannon fire and the look of the trampled wild irises growing along a creek the day after the battle.
The author depicts everyday life. Lords and ladies are mentioned only because they must be, but the author’s eye is ever on the common people. Tom meets good and bad folk. The soldiers are not faceless extras. They are conscripts far from home who must fend for themselves. For them battle is a scary, brutal business where few are lucky to survive unharmed. Tom, on the eve of Flodden, recites his version the soldier’s lament, that he fights for masters he does not like against men he does not hate for a cause the means nothing to him.” Apparently nothing has changed over the centuries.
I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates a good adventure about people that don’t usually have their story told. I wish Harry Nicholson good luck on this novel, and I truly hope it is the first of many.
The next review was sent to me from Australia. The reviewer was unable to post it onto Amazon, so I have placed it here.
REVIEW : TOM FLECK
A novel of Cleveland and Flodden by Harry Nicholson
Published by YouWriteOn.com,2011
By lucky coincidence I have just read a novel by an author sharing with me a surname (though we are not related) and from the county bordering my own native County Durham, in which two areas many of the events of the story take place.
Fortunate because it is a great read. Set in sixteenth century England, our hero, Tom Fleck, an (initially) illiterate serf cowman, is dragged unwillingly from the most menial of feudal situations through hardship and danger to the ultimate horrors witnessed as a conscripted soldier on the battlefield of Flodden in the presence, and with the well-earned respect, of historical figures he was not born even to meet. I followed his adventures over a short period at the cost of delaying other things which were pushed aside so I could turn over the next page.
A first novel and four years in the making; it is not hard to see why. Although familiar with his own native landscapes in the then wild and troubled border country, there must have been a great deal of research into the social history of the 16th century as it affected both extremes of the feudal class system. This author writes so well. The language flows smoothly conveying setting, character, atmosphere and event, with the reader rarely pausing to step back from the story and consider why his interest is so high, so much the impatience to see what happens next.
However, consideration does reveal the craft of the writer. It is much as when one looks at a fine painting and identifies with the subject, breathing the air of a landscape or considering the character of the person in a portrait, one can also appreciate the skilful perspective, the natural colouring or the subtle cast of eye or turn of mouth which reveal the craft of the artist. The reader follows easily along the path laid through the novel. More, by knowing and understanding the physical, emotional and spiritual setting of events and characters, the author finely tunes the language and its idiom to suit and therefore to convey the story most convincingly. The Captain speaks differently from his archer; the Cowman from his master; the common soldier from his commander. Just enough hints of local dialect to make the native of the area, the true Geordie, feel at home and yet leave other readers as clearly aware of happenings in that locality as they are in recognising groats and farthings in that situation as, at the same time, like and different from dollars and cents.
Tom Fleck lived in cruel times; great events dragged him in a relentless progression from his lowly living to encounter people and events, both terrible and heart-warming. Nevertheless this author presents us with timeless human traits to be either overcome or aspired to: arrogance and cruelty or humility and gentleness; greed and selfishness or generosity and loving kindness; cowardice or courage.
So what next? I sincerely hope that, in spite of all his effort and time spent in bringing forth Tom, we can look forward soon to Harry Nicholson’s next novel. He may wish to try a different genre. If so… good luck; may he make it soon. Personally I wonder what happened to Tom’s son… and then to his children. Could there be a dynastic series in the offing?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Captured!, 11 Feb 2011
Oldtimer This review is from: Tom Fleck (Paperback)
Historial novels are not really my things these days but from the first page I was captured by Tom Fleck and keen to find out about his adventures and romances. What did it for me was the authentic feel of the book: all the sights and smells and detail of life in the 16th century come alive on these pages. Above all, Tom Fleck is a real person, warts and all – and definitely somebody you’d want on your side in a fight.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, 8 Feb 2011
This review is from: Tom Fleck (Paperback)
I must first declare an interest because I know the author virtually, but that aside, this is a great read. I loved it. It has a sweet romance but the heart of the book is Tom’s journey: a road trip for the 16th Century. What I loved most about it is Harry’s gift for interesting detail, the fascinating stuff that’s usually left out and shouldn’t be.
Buy it! You’ll love it, I promise.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Historical adventure with a thread of romance, 8 Feb 2011
Mme Vivienne Blake “Mrs Morley” (France)
This review is from: Tom Fleck (Paperback)
This is a book I have known about since its birth pangs, and I have stayed faithful to it through to publication: yes, the author is a “virtual” friend, but it’s the book that has made him such. The author’s feeling for nature and landscape is evident throughout, and the panoply of characters is always interesting, never stereotyped. Adventure, humour, impeccably-researched history and romance abound throughout the story, which cannot fail to please. Will be read and re-read.
L. M. Glazzard “Lynne Glazzard” (Whitby, UK)
Tom Fleck is a beautifully written novel, weaving a number of threads in a convincing and engaging way. Tom’s initial discovery of a gold ring lost in the mud by a passing rider provides the catalyst for a chain of events that follows.
It is set in 1513 in the North of England and in Scotland with descriptions that are believable and create a strong visual picture of the period. I could almost hear some of the background noise in places and the story line is very strong. There must have been a huge amount of background research gone on here because all the places and people were really credible. I didn’t want to finish it so quickly that one night I put the book down and switched my light off…. then put the light back on and carried on reading right to the end! If you enjoy a well written and well structured story then I would really highly recommend this one.
5.0 out of 5 stars Tom Fleck A VERY GOOD READ!, June 9, 2011
By J. Townsend (Michigan)
This review is from: Tom Fleck (Paperback)
I loved this book, every page, every word. It was exciting, well written, a really good read. Loved the characters right down to the dog. Will surely read this book again and again. Characters came alive with love and adventure. There was rejoicing and sadness. A very easy story to believe. Can’t wait for more from this author.
I very much enjoyed reading this book, to the extent that it really did brighten my outlook on the world and even make me look at it differently. Harry Nicholson performs a rare feat in being able to bring his early 16th Century world alive not only with physical detail, but by convincingly portraying the mindset of the ordinary people of the time: in many ways not so different from us, with similar concerns and drives, and with a sometimes rowdy sense of humour, but also closer to nature ( I know that sounds corny but there’s really no other phrase) than most of us could ever be, because they literally live in it. Nicholson’s hero Tom knows the ways of animals and the uses of plants with a vivid, earthed awareness that is simply out of reach of most 21st Century Westerners. Along with that goes a naturally pagan outlook that might seem equally baffling to us in our Monotheistic, post-Monotheistic or Materialist world, but makes total sense for characters who almost literally sleep on the earth and for whom the pronouncements of priests are more or less irrelevant. As I read, I was totally convinced by such a viewpoint and whatever I saw of the natural world in my own daily round came to life a little bit more for me. I have to say it felt a lot healthier and more expansive than my usual boxed-in awareness.
In general, as with all the best historical novels, I was right there in the period of the story, and the author has obviously deployed wide-ranging knowledge and detailed research with great skill. The tale is a fairly simple but very engaging one, with a brilliantly described (from the soldier’s-eye view) Battle of Flodden as its centrepiece. The characters are vivid, if not over-complex, and the author’s love of them is endearingly evident.
In fact, there’s a beautifully old-fashioned feel about this novel all round, which I don’t mean as a back-handed compliment. There’s something refreshing about reading a novel in which the author obviously wants the best for his characters; in which many of them behave towards each other with dignity and decency; in which even the worst is redeemable; and in which history, ancestry and nature are honoured. All that makes Tom Fleck a much more challenging book than might first appear. Because, again like the best historical fiction, it makes us ask the deepest questions about our own world.