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Reviewed by Emily-Jane Hills Orford for Readers' Favorite
Life in seventh-century Northumbria was a challenge. Boys were brought up to take over their father’s trade and then expected to carry on the family business. But, when the king demands all men and boys respond to his call to arms and fight a war in a far-off land, all trades are set aside in favor of ensuing battles. No one dares defy the king. That is Aella's dilemma. Learning his father’s trade as a leatherworker, Aella expects to continue the family business and take care of his mother and ailing father. But the king has called him to arms, and he and his best friend must leave behind family and livelihood to fight a battle not of their making. Aella’s talent and insight in the art of leatherworking, however, leads him beyond the angst of bloody battles and he becomes a much sought-after artist, particularly by the monks of Lindisfarne who commission him to make the cover for the Gospel of St. John as a gift to Bishop Cuthbert, one of Aella’s newest friends. This attracts the king’s attention and Aella’s prowess on the battlefield is overshadowed by his artistic talent.
John Broughton’s historical fiction novel, Heaven in a Wild Flower: Tale Of An Anglo-Saxon Leatherworker on Lindisfarne, is an engaging read that delves into the unsettled and difficult times of the seventh century. Told in the first-person narrative, from Aella’s point of view, the plot begins in the leatherworking shop and follows Aella’s call to arms, his introduction to the monks of Lindisfarne, and his rise in notoriety as a finely skilled leatherworker. The author is well versed in his knowledge of this era. I particularly marveled at his manner of introducing leatherworking techniques as young Aella instructs his fellow comrades at arms on the different processes which cause the odor that besieges their nostrils as they enter a small village. The dialogue and descriptive narrative are well constructed as the author not only educates the reader on this era in history, but he entertains them as well. A fascinating read.