Author: K.M. Peyton
Illustrator: Victor G. Ambrus
Publication: World Publishing Company, hardcover, 1967
Genre: YA Historical Fiction
Setting: England, 1908-1912Description: In the first of this four book series, orphaned Christina is forced to go live with her Uncle Russell, and his sons, Mark and Will, at their home, Flambards, 40 miles outside London in the countryside. Mark and his father are obsessed with horses while Will is obsessed with machinery and aviation. Christina, just 12, is an heiress but used to be shuttled from relative to relative, all indifferent to her wellbeing. Just as she arrives at Flambards, Will has had a bad accident while hunting so Christina is nervous when her uncle says she must learn to ride so she can hunt as well. She is also worried because she saw a letter speculating that Uncle Russell covets her fortune to support Flambards. Unwillingly, Christina is drawn into the conflict between her cousins and their brutal father, and is also forced to recognize how technology is changing their world.
My Impression: I found this book in my elementary school library when I was 11 and it has been one of my favorites ever since (I think as a result of this book, I also fell in love with the work of illustrator Victor Ambrus). It has all the elements I most like: an orphan (Christina is more doormat than intrepid), a rambling house in the country, romantic triangles and, while horses are not an essential part of the equation for me, Peyton is such a skillful writer she made me care about them too. This book is a coming of age for Christina: she is wary but fairly clueless young girl when she arrives in Flambards, brought up by prim female relatives. Her cousin Will is responsible for making her aware of class issues for the first time, as he points out it is just [bad] luck that the servants at Flambards are forced to work for a living while he and Christina are now. Christina is aware that Dick, the kind stable boy who teaches her how to ride, is a better rider and has more skill with the horses than Mark, who always seems to lose close races because he is too impatient or mistreats his mount. That is a clue early on that he is a jerk – no English writer is going to turn an animal abuser into a hero! Prominent character, yes.
with everyone traveling by motor or soaring over the countryside on their dragonfly wings. Not only William, but Mr. Dermot, and Joe and Jack, believed in this future. She could see their devotion in their eyes, just as in Dick and Fowler she saw the ingrained, inborn faith in the horse. And who was right? Before today, she had never known these possibilities existed but these people were not fools; she felt humbled by their faith, excited by their courage; her mind all shaken up, inspired, suddenly confused. Just for a moment the visions dazzled her.As I observed recently, no one does yearning better than K.M. Peyton, whether it is Christina or Ruth Hollis or other characters. Once Christina has learned to love hunting, she settles into life at Flambards, although there are many disturbing events to mar daily life in the strange household where the horses are coddled but nothing is spent on keeping the house in good condition. Initially, all Christina wants is a friend now that Flambards is her home, but eventually, she wants more. It was interesting to read that Peyton was planning an adult novel but as has happened with other writers, having a child protagonist made her publisher decide the book had to be classified as a juvenile, according to a 2014 interview with The Guardian:
So it's an irony that Peyton did not actually intend Flambards to be a children's book, but the first in a series of romantic novels. "The first one was definitely an adult book but it started with the girl at about 13, that was my mistake, and then carried on with her love life later on."The GNYBT Group is discussing Flambards tonight if you are a fan and want to join us! There is also a miniseries that was quite good and is available on DVD. It does not cover the controversial fourth book but that discussion can wait for another day. No spoilers allowed, as my friend Emily G found out the hard way.Source: Personal copy (from a library book sale in Durham, NC). This reread was my eighteenth book in the 2022 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge led by Marg at The Intrepid Reader.The Edge of the Cloud, second in the series, a few days later, which is just as good!
She recalls a tussle with her publisher at the time over how it would be published. She didn't want it to go out under a children's imprint. Her editor offered to give it a more adult cover, but the disguise didn't work. "I got the most vitriolic letters from mothers saying they knew what my work was like, and they were shocked at this book," she says. "It was quite sexy actually."
Nowadays Peyton's stories of adolescent romance would be published as teenage or young adult fiction. As these didn't exist as separate categories in the 1960s, the books were addressed to girls of indeterminate age, their burgeoning sexuality sometimes more or less buried in their passion for horses and at other times exploding out of the stable yard and into romances with a series of dashing young men.