Unsurprisingly, After Flodden is set in the aftermath of the 1513 Battle of Flodden, which was a major disaster for the Scottish cause. The battle itself, and some other background information, is described in flashback scenes, with the main narrative occurring after the event during the closing months of 1513. Each chapter is marked with a date, and since they do not always happen in chronological order it can be important to take note of this.
Rosemary deals with the wider political stage only in passing, and for the most part we follow particular individuals as they try to come to terms with the battle and its aftermath. These individuals each have personal reasons for wanting to know more, ranging from a desperate quest for a family member to the desire to find a scapegoat for the failure. The various threads interact with one another from an early stage of the book, so you are not left wondering how the pieces join up. However, some aspects of motive and personal history are deliberately withheld until near the end.
Rosemary uses dialect a great deal in the book, to distinguish both social class and geographic origin. In particular, characters from Scotland itself speak differently from those on the borders in what is now Northumberland. I am very fond of that county, and it was good to see it being explored in this way. The most likeable characters, and the ones treated most sympathetically, are precisely those from along this turbulent strip of constantly debated land. I cannot say how accurate the dialect is, but it certainly works to help place the characters.
However, I found the story as a whole slightly perplexing. The “whodunit” thread trying to account for the military disaster did not sit very comfortably, to my eyes, with the exploration of personal loyalty and love, and it felt as though too much importance was being put on the shoulders of one rather insignificant family. The fact that the chapters following the main events (ie not the flashback moments) were almost, but not quite, in temporal order did not help here.
A retreat into catatonia is used quite often in the book to basically get a character out of the way. In some cases it is a consequence of battle trauma, in others there is a hereditary factor, and in others it seems to be simply a response to the failure of plans and intentions. I found this repeated refrain, mixed with the diversity of causes, to be rather frustrating. Perhaps Rosemary was trying to mirror something of the condition of Scotland in this, where national trauma and the failure of grand schemes backfired into a turmoil of internal violence and insanity. Since she does not foreground the national dimensions of life, it is hard to tell.
For me, another 4* book. The place and time of After Flodden were interesting, and the use of dialect added considerably to the characters, but I found the story itself a little disjointed. I would have liked some exploration of the national narratives as well as personal. After all, it would be less than 100 years from this point of violent incompatibility between England and Scotland, up until the act of union in which a joint ruler was acknowledged. It is very hard from within the book to see how this would be at all feasible.