By Aiki Flinthart

CAT Press


446pp/$24.99/November 2019

Blackbirds Sing
Cover by Caitlyn McPherson

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Aiki Flinthart's Blackbirds Sing is set in London in 1486, a year after Richard III lost his throne at the Battle of Bosworth Field to be replaced by Henry VII, the first king of the Tudor dynasty. Although Henry's position on the throne plays a major role, as does his recent marriage to Edward IV's daughter Elizabeth of York and the pending birth of their first son, Arthur, Flinthart's main focus is on a large group of women living in London, mere commoners who are trying to live their lives in the aftermath of a thirty years long war.

Each chapter focuses on a different character, although they begin to move in and out of each other's stories, building a complex society in London while also serving as a reminder that fifteenth century London was a much smaller city, both in area and population, than modern London. With the action beginning in the outlying village of Isledon, modern day Islington, which is part of London, and moving to focus on a few blocks just east of St. Paul's Cathedral, Flinthart explores the lives of musicians, washerwomen, prostitutes, and servants. Having a different woman be the focus of each chapter makes the narrative slightly disjointed, but it quickly becomes apparent that there is an underlying plot running throughout the novel. In fact, using the points of view of different women to show the plot means that the reader realistically understands what is happening well before any of the characters do.

One of the characters who appears throughout the novel, and drives the plot with his own plot against the king, is Lord Francis Lovell, the 1st Viscount Lovell. Lovell was a Ricardian partisan who was considered one of Richard III's closest supporters. Historically, Lovell survived the Battle of Bosworth Field that ended Richard's reign and over the next couple of years tried to destroy the nascent Tudor dynasty before disappearing forever. In Blackbirds Sing, Lovell plots his way throughout London, theoretically trying to keep a low profile, but in fact more than happy to reveal his identity to anyone who comes in contact with him. Many of those people know he is a lord, but do not fully understand his tenuous position in the Tudor society as a supporter of Richard III. This allows Lovell to move reasonable freely in certain areas, notably among the women Flinthart uses as the focus of her story.

The numerous characters and viewpoints can be a bit confusing, but As the novel progresses, the characters begin to more fully take on individual characteristics, although all share certain aspects. Few, if any of them, are willing to accept the roles that Tudor society has assigned them. Most view marriage as akin to a punishment, although a couple, realizing that marriage is expected of them, aim to marry above their station in life. Each of the women have skills and relationships that will prove useful in eventually taking on Lovell's plot.

Although Flinthart's characters are all commoners, in that they aren't members of the nobility, her main point is that there is nothing common about these women who are able to maintain their lives, families, and businesses in a society which was designed to keep them all in a subservient position. Even before the events of Blackbirds Sing, these women were extraordinary in their drive and abilities, yet at the same time, they were all everywomen, a clear message that women everywhere and in every tme can rise up to meet any challenge they face.

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