Monday, August 29, 2016

First Dry Rattle by Celia Boyd


“The first dry rattle of new drawn steel
Changes the world today.”

So wrote Kipling, 300 years later in his poem, Edgehill Fight. The Civil War divided England and altered it for ever.

"Once whilst committing suicide, I changed my mind.” Tom Fletcher, a youth of Worcester, aged sixteen in 1639 revolts against his chosen career, by trying to hang himself. It was intended that he should follow his father, Amyas Fletcher, as a Master Butcher. But his father seeing his son’s distress at his chosen vocation, apprentices him to his cousin Ben, a physician of some standing in Worcester. Suddenly in September 1642, Tom, now a qualified doctor, is thrust into the melee of the English Civil War, and finds that he can best respect his Hippocratic oath by remaining fiercely neutral.

Returning to Worcester from a visit to friends in Ledbury, he falls foul of a Parliamentarian quartermaster, Brigstock who is using the outbreak of hostilities to indulge his psychopathic tendencies. The Earl of Essex’ army occupies Worcester and Brigstock treacherously names Amyas Fletcher as a spy. Tom flees from Worcester and travels across the Midlands to serve the King’s army as a surgeon, but is captured by Brigstock at the Rollright Stones. He escapes and at Edgehill his medical skills prove invaluable to both sides. Brigstock is finally vanquished and Tom is a guest at Great Tew, the home of Lucius Carey, Viscount Falkland, intellectual, pacifist and politician.


As an avid enthusiast for the English Civil War, I was looking forward to reading this novel, bearing in mind I had been warned this was no fluffy romance with limpid eyed heroines in silks dreaming of dashing cavaliers, but a gritty account of what it was really like in the 1640’s.
I was certainly not disappointed. The opening line, which as another reviewer has already said must be the best opening line ever, told me I was in for a beautifully written adventure which delves deeply and convincingly into both the Royalist intractability to keep the natural order of things, and the Rebels’ determination that the rights of the common man must change.

Tom Fletcher has chosen to negotiate the horrors of the Civil War in his own way, and although one expects doctors to be essentially well-meaning, Tom’s inherent goodness shines through, even when his pledge to care for all men, no matter their politics doesn’t always work as he intended.

The prose is elegant and the character of Tom, as well as Amyas and Phoebe are beautifully drawn. I learned a lot about 17th C medicine and the use of plant treatments which with the background of everyday life was extensively researched, elements which brought the story to life.

Tom discovers his own capacity for hate when his father is unjustly killed and he seeks revenge against his better judgement. As if things weren’t bad enough, Tom has made a dangerous enemy, one without a conscience who uses war as an excuse for unforgiveable behaviour. The author show us how and why ordinary men are changed by violence, allowing them to perpetrate acts they wouldn’t consider under normal circumstances, but without making excuses for them.

A brilliant, fast paced and exciting novel from this impressive author.

Anita Davison author of ‘Royalist Rebel’ under the name Anita Seymour. Her latest venture is a Victorian cosy mystery series from Aria, Head of Zeus, the first of which is scheduled for release in October 2016.

Celia Boyd's Website here

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Thank you for visiting my blog,, where the greatest historical fiction is reviewed! For fascinating women of history bios and women's fiction please visit

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