What amazing serendipity to have published this book at this particular time! Swinfen’s Flood is set on the English Fens in the early 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. If the romantic finale is a little predictable it still leaves the reader satisfied and offers hope for the future.