I’ve read that K M Peyton did not write Flambards with a teenage audience in mind, though this, the first book in the series, ticks all the boxes. It is 1908. The protagonist, Christina, is twelve at the start of the novel, an orphan sent to live with her uncle and cousins in the country after a life of being shunted around from one relative to another. Her uncle wants her there, she overhears, to marry her to one of his sons, so that the fortune she will eventually inherit can be used to resurrect the crumbling estate of Flambards. From the first page to the last, Flambards is completely engaging, story-telling at its very best: we follow Christina for the five years she spends finding her place in the family, discovering a love for horses and for the old house, and coming to know the three boys who will weave in and out of the rest of her life: her cousins, Mark and Will and the stable-boy, Dick.
I know almost nothing about horses, but K M Peyton makes you feel the sweat and the breath of the horses, the fear and thrill of riding, the excitement and revulsion of fox-hunting. She brings the decrepit country house to life too, and the social hierarchies of pre-First World War Britain. And at the heart of the story, the joys, heartbreak and awkwardness of her involvement with Mark, Will and Dick.
Though the book is a beautiful whole in itself, at fourteen I read the original trilogy one after another in great gulps of all-night reading – and I have been known to re-read them the same way. The second book, The Edge of the Cloud, winner of the 1969 Carnegie Medal, sees Christina and Will making a life for themselves away from Flambards on the eve of the First World War. In the third, Flambards in Summer, having reached twenty-one, Christina has inherited her fortune and returns to Flambards to try to bring life to the old house, in spite of the ongoing war. There is a fourth book, Flambards Divided, written over a decade after the third, and, for me, a disappointment. I felt that the ‘right’ ending had been reached at the end of Flambards in Summer.
What is interesting about these books, as far as calling them YA goes, is that only in the first book and part of the second is Christina actually a teenager. And yet, I think the whole trilogy fits perfectly into the YA mould, perhaps because what it is about, more than anything else, is someone finding out about how they fit into the world, which, for me, is a key part of YA. That would explain my reluctance to enjoy the fourth book too, which seems to me to encompass more adult concerns.
When I decided to include these books in our Classic YA month, I feared I might find them out of print, but no, you’re in luck, because here they are in lovely new editions, so you don’t have to start trawling the secondhand bookshops.
More to Read!
Look out for other books by K M Peyton. Many of them feature horses, but my particular favourites are the Pennington series: Pennington’s Seventeen Summer, The Beethoven Medal and Pennington’s Heir, which are about a teenage concert pianist. Sounds odd I know, but so good! Unfortunately, these are out of print, so you will need to do some searching… Worth it though!
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