Wednesday, November 4, 2009
Review: Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle, by Manda Scott
Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle is the fantastic story of Boudica, warrior queen of the Iceni tribe (or Eceni, according to Manda Scott). This novel is the first in a series, and covers Boudica’s (called Breaca) early years, from the age of eight to 21, when she faced the Romans in battle. Other major characters in the novel are Ban, who later goes to the Continent and experiences a sort of rebirth as a Roman citizen; and Caradoc (Caractatus), leader of the Catuvellauni, with whom Breaca has a tentative alliance.
You could say this book is divided into two parts, with the first half devoted to the struggle between the Iceni and Catuvellauni, and the second to the struggle between the native Britons and the Romans.
It must be very tough to write a novel about a people whose culture was oral and not written. The Romans wrote about Boudica, but their opinions were hardly objective. Not much is known about Boudica, and even less is known about her childhood, so a lot of this novel is, as the author admits in her note at the end, fictional. But Scott does a fantastic job with what little information she does have, and her characters seem real and believable. Her information about the Romans is a little more complete, because they, of course, left written records. The historian Dio Cassius described Breaca as having flaming red hair, and boy, does Manda Scott run with that.
I took a real chance when buying this book, because I’d never even heard of the author before and didn’t know if I’d like a 700-page novel about Roman Britain. And, at first I was a little wary of the “dreaming” concept that drives the book. But I was pleasantly surprised. The dreaming isn’t over-the-top, and the animal imagery is simply amazing. The story takes a little while to gather momentum, but reading through the first 50 pages or so yields a really rich, rewarding reading experience. This is a very strong start to what promises to be a very engaging series.