I love fictional stories set against true historical facts. Flood tells the story of Fenlanders in 17th century East Anglia whose hard working but peaceful way of life is compromised by those who believe they are entitled to profit by whatever means necessary.
Mercy Bennington, her parents and brother farm on the Norfolk Fens, as have generations of their ancestors. Fifteen years ago, before the war, her grandfather led an attack against the drainage works that were damaging the largest area of the Fens. Now livelihoods are being threatened again under Cromwell’s government. This puritanical and sombre regime endangers not only the delicate balance of life on the Fens but also the Fenlanders’ very existence, through drainage and commandeering their land, crops and livestock. In addition, the new laws forbid people marrying in church or baptizing their children and dreadful punishments are meted out to those found defying the Puritan rules.
As the men are brought in to drain the land, with no care for the consequences to the village, its inhabitants or the environment, Mercy, her family and friends resort to desperate measures which threaten not only the family, but also the villagers. Flood is told from Mercy’s first person perspective, so it’s very easy to feel sympathy for the untenable position the Fenlanders find themselves in, and justify their reactions.
People not only have to deal with the destruction of their lands, property and lifestyle but also the growing threat of being charged with witchcraft. The witch-finder Matthew Hopkins, along with his second in command, travels the country, spreading panic and following up on accusations caused by villagers turning against each other for the flimsiest of reasons.
With wonderful attention to detail, Ann Swinfen’s rich descriptions of village life and the remote beauty of the fens conjure up vivid images of an area and lifestyle I knew next to nothing about. The narrative is engrossing, researched and written extremely well, perfectly evoking a time of oppressive government rule and uncertainty. Highly recommended for lovers of historical fiction and those that just like a cracking story.
‘It seems they can do what they please. Was not the War fought to overthrow the tyranny of a king? It seems tyranny still stalks the land.’ ~ Mercy Bennington
– Online Review
Amazing book about a lost world
What a wonderful chance find this book was. I’ve been wanting to read something about the Fens in the 17th century, when the ancient way of life of the Fenlanders was washed away to satisfy the greed of those in power, since reading something about it in a book by Norah Lofts, years ago, but I’ve never been able to find anything. Then I chanced upon this book via a random passing tweet (on Twitter). So glad I did!
The book starts with the very end of the old way of life, when the people of Ann Swinfen’s fictional village celebrate old traditions, the bringing in of the May and the beating of the village boundaries, for the last time ~ except that they don’t know that the way they live is about to be consigned to a memory of a golden, uncomplicated past. Mercy, the heroine of the novel, says “Why can we not be left to ourselves, here in the Fens, to grow our food, and rear our animals and mend our houses, troubling no one? We need no courts or kings or parliaments.” Something that might be echoed by many communities before and since.
As the dreaded ‘drainers’ move in, life becomes more treacherous for Mercy, her family and friends every day, and is made harder still by unclement weather, failing harvests, and the presence of Matthew Hopkins, witchfinder general.
This book is so well researched, I relished every word, every description; if only there were pictures, too! All the characters are so alive (I particularly liked eel fisherman Nehemiah, and soldier George), the story is a real page turner and I was completely engrossed, doing that ‘just one more chapter’ at three in the morning thing. It taught me a lot about a subject, time and place that fascinates me, too. I have just downloaded the sequel, and will be beginning it as soon as I have posted this review.
Highly, highly recommended; historical fiction at its best.
Riveting! Beautifully and Masterfully Written! Sequel, please!
“If you ever wanted to read an extraordinarily riveting novel – action-filled and tender by turns – while learning what it was like to live in England during the Cromwell years, don’t miss Ann Swinfen’s latest novel Flood, set during the seventeenth century in the remote fenlands of East Anglia! Under Cromwell, joyless Puritan fanaticism reigns with a focus on witch-hunting and destruction of beautiful centuries-old churches, not to mention the emergence of a corrupt government that turns a deaf ear to the reasonable concerns of citizens seeking redress for wrongs. Against this background, the plot, suspenseful and exciting, pits entitled land-owners against the disastrous encroachments of unscrupulous speculators ignorant of the environmental consequences of their actions.
The lovely descriptions of the fenlands are elegantly written with an eye for detail that transports the reader to a ready understanding of its need for salvation. The characters are unforgettable. The reader becomes immersed in their lives, seen through the eyes of the novel’s strong heroine Mercy Bennington as she navigates the hair-raising twists and turns of her struggles and challenges as the story progresses. In some respects this is a coming of age story about Mercy – wise for her years, grounded in love and loyalty for family, friends, and the fenlands themselves. As Mercy matures, the love that develops between her and Gideon becomes increasingly important to the brilliantly conceived plot.
I literally could not put this novel down. Dynamic, suspenseful, fascinating from both a human and historical viewpoint, beautifully and masterfully written, this novel cries out for a sequel!”
A page-turner in the best sense of the expression! A story of power, politics and persistence.
“Set in the 17th century English Fenlands, this is a story of exploitation, greed and courageous resistance. The story is told by Mercy Bennington, granddaughter of a local hero and ‘trouble maker’. When drainers move in to take away their common lands and alter the finely balanced landscape, Mercy emerges as a feisty protestor, ready to risk her own life in order to preserve the livelihood and valued lifestyle of her community.”
“What amazing serendipity to have published this book at this particular time! Swinfen’s Flood is set on the English Fens in the 17th century, just after the Civil War; but the parallels with the current situation on the Somerset Levels are very striking. That said, this book stands on its own merits as a really absorbing read. Swinfen conjures up the conditions of life at that period in that place very vividly and makes us understand how that unique way of life is threatened by the draining of the fens and the enclosure of common land. This is done through the story of one family of yeoman farmers living in a fenland village and the various members of the family are fully realised characters. In particular, her heroine Mercy grabs our sympathy. She is a strong girl, feisty enough to appeal to a modern reader without stepping beyond the bounds of the conventions of the period.
The narrative arc of the book is powerful enough to keep us turning the pages and the description of Mercy’s trial for witchcraft is blood-chilling. The story comes to a climax with the flood of the title, with a gripping account of Mercy’s attempts to save the lives of both friends and those who might be accounted as enemies, and an ultimate tragedy. Highly recommended.”
Beautifully crafted and masterfully written
“Ann Swinfen’s latest novel Flood is beautifully crafted and masterfully written. Her handling of the Puritan fanaticism, the witch hunting and the unscrupulous speculators makes a fast moving exciting story. Her tremendous attention to detail and stunningly effective descriptions drawn with the deft strokes of a master brings the characters of the 17th century Fenlands vividly alive. I was completely immersed in the book and never wanted to reach the end.”
Engrossing and Compelling
The world that Mercy lives in shows her very little mercy. Sometimes it is actually difficult to read about the various challenges that are thrown at her, and I found myself getting angry over and over again at the cruelty and self-righteousness that so many of her adversaries showed – traits all too easy to spot in our world today. But the author deftly seeds her narrative with moments of brightness, of hope, of love, and of courage so powerful it takes your breath away, and that kept this reader avidly reading.
Too often, a “strong woman” in historical fiction means an outspoken woman with 21st century sensibilities. Mercy, however, is very much a woman of her time, and her strength, which grows into something truly impressive in the course of the book, feels authentic. I love it that she and the other fenlanders are not a bunch of interchangeable passive victims, suffering and helpless. Instead, each is completely individual, and each brings something of his or her own to the story.
This is the kind of richly satisfying historical novel that makes me wonder why so many people seem to want to read only about kings and queens. Flood is a great example of how ordinary men and women can be much more interesting. Highly recommended!
– Online Review
Another Triumph for Ann Swinfen
Meticulous research never intrudes upon a riveting storyline: I learned a lot about the period while being totally engrossed in the narrative. I liked the book’s unpredictability: for the reader there was always the looming possibility that any one of the characters might not survive, just as there was that same constant uncertainty for anyone who lived in those times. A brilliant evocation of time and place, beautiful prose and a great story – what more can a reader of historical fiction possibly want? A sequel!
– Online Review
I Feel I Was There
This book gives us a heroine, Mercy, a very real person, who takes the reader deep into the hand-to-mouth history of East Anglian farmers at the time of Cromwell. The story is written so freshly and seems shaped out of respect for those who experienced such troubled, unfair times. There is not a word out of place, and the style is understated and simple, uncluttered by any writer’s agenda, allowing emotional and political experiences of that era to spring into vivid relief. I feel I’ve effortlessly stepped back 500 years and have returned with a clear chunk of history.
– Online Review
Beautifully-written, Heart-warming Tale
For me, the sign of good historical fiction is being able to learn about a period of history while being entertained, and Ann Swinfen’s novel, Flood, does just that.
As the author transports us to the wild beauty of the fenlands, where the land-owners, and the fens themselves, are threatened by unscrupulous speculators, I learned what it was like to live in these remote fenlands of East Anglia; about the Puritan fanaticism of the seventeenth century Cromwell period, and the witch-hunting and corrupt political system.
Told through the eyes of the novel’s heroine, Mercy Bennington, the reader quickly sympathises with her, and her farming family, when exploitative and unethical drainers move in to drain the fens and enclose the common land, having no idea of the environmental impact of their actions. In the fight to protect their lands and homes, Mercy emerges as a feisty protestor, willing to risk her own life to protect the livelihood of her community.
Meticulously researched, and beautifully told, I would highly recommend Flood to historical fiction fans who enjoy an action-packed, suspenseful, and heart-warming tale. The novel’s sharp environmental message, too, is very well-timed.
– Online Review
A wonderfully moving book, though the ending made me cry. My emotions were pulled this way and that as I worried for various characters throughout the story. The descriptions of the life and times of the fenlanders were very evocative and I feel inspired to do some further reading of histories of the time. I do hope we shall hear more of Mercy and Gideon.
– Online Review
This story is told from the viewpoint of Mercy Bennington, a young woman who lives in a small farming community in the fenlands of Lincolnshire in the years just at the end of the English Civil War. The gentle narration, which beautifully and effortlessly captures the everyday life and concerns of the period, allows the reader to wholly enter Mercy’s life and see events through her eyes. As a result, the struggles and dangers that she has to face are all the more shocking, whether from the callous actions of ruthless speculators or the downright cruelty of religious zealots. The ending is satisfying but there are some things unresolved and I hope that Ann Swinfen intends writing a sequel.
– Online Review
Riveting, Suspenseful Historical Fiction
Ann Swinfen’s latest novel tells the dramatic story of young Mercy Bennington and the struggles of her family and community when their farms on the Fens of East Anglia begin to be drained and enclosed by greedy, ruthless enemies. I knew nothing about these events when I began to read, and I’m impressed at the amount of research it must have taken. Swinfen knows the period and the rural life so intimately that it becomes background while the lives of the characters, especially Mercy, take center stage. The novel is suspenseful and intense, as one disastrous event after another threatens to destroy the Bennington family. But Mercy remains indomitable, even after being tortured and tried as a witch in one of the novel’s most harrowing episodes. Her strength emerges believably from her anger at and resistance to the destruction with which her community is threatened. The novel should be of interest to all readers of historical fiction and even to intelligent teen readers, who will relate to Mercy’s self-discovery, emergence into adulthood, and difficult romance. The novel’s implicit ecological message, too, is all too timely.
– Online Review
I was swept away by FLOOD
I read portions of hundreds of books every year, as part of the research for my own historical novels. I rarely review books because it wouldn’t be fair to the authors to rate or recommend their work after reading a few chapters or gleaning the info I needed. Flood, by Ann Swinfen, beat the odds because it was both great background information on culture and environment of the 17th century (my field of study), but it was beautifully constructed and a story well told. I read the entire book in only a few sittings.
Flood is a fictional story set in real events of the mid-1640s, the hostile takeover and destruction of centuries-old family farms and businesses located in England’s East Anglian fens, which are seasonal wetlands, rivers, canals, and saltwater/freshwater marshes. The rich and powerful believe themselves entitled to take livelihoods and lives in their pursuit of profit. And the people they come against will not be victims.
When Swinfen describes village customs or the extended-family relationships in a small village, she uses imagery that stimulates the senses: the stink of skinned eels, the unexpected delicacy of a wildflower, the trusting nuzzle of a dairy cow, the sharp dig and long-term cramps of torture restraints.
The author used the events surrounding the real Witchfinder General, who tortured and killed hundreds of innocent men and women in the 1640s. The protagonist and her friend were accused of witchcraft and Swinfen describes the experience of one who survived the testing and trials.
The book’s action and romance began early, but they were both carefully paced. The conflict and drama steadily simmered to a boiling point—ironically, in freezing flood waters. The characters weren’t too holy or too evil, and weren’t predictable. I would have liked an unambiguous resolution or epilogue at the end of the book, but since real life is usually unresolved, I can draw my own conclusions, or research the end of the scheme for myself. (And I did.)
The genius of Swinfen’s 17th-century Flood story is that it so closely parallels the politics and economy of the 21st century. (I don’t think she intended that—the book is not a political thriller.) I compared yeoman farmers and small business owners, the “Adventurers” and the One Percent vulture capitalists, the rape of the environment (fens then and mineral or fuel mining now), the economically depressed villagers and the long-term unemployed, the soldiers who joined the military for one reason and were virtually enslaved for another reason, the corrupt courts, the politicians bought off by corporations and plutocrats, the marriage of religion and government causing oppression, protesters trying to take back a lifestyle and heritage stolen from them—why does this sound so familiar? But Swinfen’s fictional story in real events rings true four centuries later because although cultures change, people do not.
I bought the Kindle edition. But I wish I’d bought the book, which is more substantial in my opinion. Flood is a keeper. Highly recommended! (5/5 stars)
– Online Review
Loved this story
“This is a great read . Very atmospheric and lyrical. I loved the description of the Fens. I am a big fan of 16th and 17th century English history, and this story was great.”