In terms of historical and geographical spread, writing this book must have been a more trying task than one would imagine. The New Forest is simply full of so many towns, villages, hamlets, streams, rivers, hills, trees, and all manner of other features. The shipyard at Bucklers Hard, the dense forests, the port of Lymington, the heathland… and there are so many ancient customs peculiar to the New Forest that are simply mind-boggling – verderers, agisters and pannage to name but a few. But Rutherfurd manages it very well – and a credit to the New Forest Museum in his acknowledgements suggests how far the author has gone in his research.
Some chapters are stronger than others. The opening chapter focusing on William Rufus and Walter Tyrrell sets the scene convincingly, and the Jane Austen style chapter on the Georgian era New Forest is also well crafted. Other chapters do feel as if they are marking time, but it is always inevitable that some chapters will be more pivotal than others.
I have always enjoyed the technique of following a small number of families through generations, as it allows us to see how societies and classes change over time. And social history is something that Rutherfurd does very well too – we can sense the conventions of Norman Britain, the growth of a merchant Class in the fifteenth century, and the quaint world of Georgian England. Social History in fictions- needs to feel right, and this something that many authors neglect.
I enjoyed this book very much, and I am sure that anyone who has squelched through peaty bogs, tramped over heathland and battled through gorse and bracken will nod with warm agreement with what they find evoked here.