My friend Harry Nicholson asked me to review his new novel, The Black Caravel. I helped proofread his last one, Tom Fleck, but I’ve had no hand in this book.
So, first impression: I loved it! It’s quite a short novel but packed with incident and likeable and interesting characters.
The Black Caravel is a sequel to Tom Fleck. The latter is fully titled Tom Fleck: A novel of Cleveland and Flodden, and is set in 1513. The novel tells the story of 18-year old Tom and his adventures, which climax at the Battle of Flodden. You can read more about it here; as well as the first chapter. I highly recommend it.
The Black Caravel is set twenty-three years later, in 1536, when Tom is a happily married family man. From the blurb:
1536 is a year of rebellion against Henry VIII’s seizure of England’s abbeys. Barbary corsairs raid northwards. Despite the turmoil, Tom Fleck must journey to London.
You don’t need to have read the first book to make sense of the second – Harry reminds us of pertinent details quite seamlessly – but, as I might have mentioned, I recommend that you do, just for the joy of reading good historical fiction.
I confess to loving Tom Fleck. He is brave, principled and adventurous. He’s what is popularly described as a book boyfriend: the man I would marry (after Jamie Fraser) if I could somehow dispose of the Hub without going to jail, assuming of course that I could bring a fictional character to life and he wouldn’t object to my complete lack of skills that would fit me to live in the 16th century (me being no Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser).
What I love about Harry’s books, however, handsome hero aside, are the fascinating details he weaves into his stories. I now know how to prepare a rabbit for the pot, making sure to steep it in brine overnight; and that gulls dine on dead men’s eyes first (despite that nugget, let me assure you that the books are not gruesome, although they don’t shy away from the unpleasant realities of their setting). I discovered from reading the books that Harry has a real love of nature which is not something that appeals to me, and yet it was engrossing to learn for example of the herbs that freshen your mouth or which heal in some way.
Harry has a background in seafaring and his knowledge litters the pages of The Black Caravel without showing off in any way. He writes what he knows, and the books are better for it.
Perhaps more importantly, Harry has a way of getting to the nitty-gritty of his subject matter, leaving us to draw parallels to today:
Tom watched them depart and wondered at the brave poverty. It was a topsy-turvy world. Such a struggle to live. Hard knocks and cold drownings, and all the while velvet-clad folk in London’s great halls dined on swan.
Dining on swan aside, I couldn’t help thinking of the modern world with its food banks; it’s rich/poor divide; its drowning, desperate refugees. A struggle to live indeed.
So, I’ll say it again, even though I’ve said it twice before:
Tom Fleck and The Black Caravel:
The books are available on Kindle or in paperback:
Incidentally, Harry is a gifted enamellist (I think they’re called). Check his blog for some wonderful work; including the two originals which are his books’ covers.
Muphry’s law is an adage that states: “If you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written.” The name is a deliberate misspelling of Murphy’s law.
Just so you know, although it wasn’t a criticism, when I wrote, I helped proofread his last one, Tom Fleck, I actually wrote: I helped proofread his last one., Tom Fleck.
There’s a reason Muphry has his own Law.