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Review: The Warrior's Princess, by Barbara Erskine

I usually love timeslip novels like this. A first-century Celtic princess’s life parallels that of a modern-day woman, who escapes to Wales to avoid someone who attacked her in London. Later Jess, the modern-day woman, goes to Rome, partly to escape her attacker (who followed her to Wales), partly to research Eigon’s story. I thought I couldn’t go completely wrong with a premise like this. The premise is good, but the execution of the book falls far short of my expectations

I enjoyed the historical part of the novel, but it took me a while (about 300 pages) to get in to Jess’s story in the present day. You really have to suspend your sense of disbelief at this book, peppered as it is with too many coincidences and deus ex machinas to save the day to count. It’s lazy writing, in my opinion. And although Erskine conveys Jess’s sense of panic at being stalked really well, through the first 200 pages or so, I found myself thinking, “OK, I get it now, can we move on to the more interesting parts of the story?” Some of the supporting characters were also a bit confusing; at times, Jess’s friends seemed to believe her story, but at others, not.

In addition, the dialogue in the modern-day story is a bit stilted; native English speakers I know of use contractions while speaking, and they don’t use the passive tense (as in this sentence: “you are looking at me as if I am mad”). I noticed that often, the author would use the same phrases and descriptions over and over again (a number of the characters wear open-necked shirts, and in a couple of scenes, Jess kicks off her sandals—in the middle of sidewalks in Rome in the middle of summer, in order to relax her feet.

About two thirds of the book focuses on Jess, which is a pity, because the story really belongs to Eigon, the woman in the past. I think the novel could have been better had the author focused on this historical parts of this novel. I found Eigon’s story to be much more compelling, although I never really understood Titus’s motivations (“he’s evil” doesn’t quite cut it in my book). But I really liked the historical details; clearly, the book is well-researched, and I enjoyed learning about Roman Britain. Another part of the book that I enjoyed was the author’s exploration of religious traditions; I thought she weaved the ancient Roman gods, Christianity, and Druid beliefs into the story very well. I also loved the suspense factor of the book. Through both the modern and ancient settings of The Warrior's Princess, the theme of good versus evil is delivered heavy-handedly.

According to the author’s note at the end of the book, historically, not much is known about Eigon—it’s not even clear if Eigon was a man or a woman. That’s one of the more interesting parts of the story, in my opinion, and I would have loved to see the author flesh that out a bit more. But as it is, the book is about 200 pages too long. The Warrior’s Princess is the first Barbara Erskine novel I’ve read; and while my opinion of it wasn’t stellar, interestingly enough, I’m willing to try more of her books in the future. Maybe this one just wasn’t for me.


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