A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion
This is an epic novel based before, during and after the time period of Boudica’s uprising against the Romans. It is an incredibly imaginative and moving tale and we are introduced to many vivid characters. What makes this novel even more impressive is that it is separated into multiple parts, each one written by a different author. These are separate stories and yet they weave together to create one vast perspective of Boudica’s rebellion. It is truly amazing what these talented authors have been able to achieve. For reviewing purposes I have chosen to address the sections one at a time.
Part One, “The Queen”, by Stephanie Dray
In the very first chapter of the novel I expected the queen to be Boudica herself but instead we are introduced to Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes. In a short period of time the author is able to bring Cartimandua to living, breathing, fire-spouting life. She is portrayed as a strong woman who is fiercely loyal to her people and who would sacrifice anything for them–including her own reputation. She is considered treacherous for allying with the Romans but Stephanie Dray shows us the truth of Cartimandua: she was only doing what she thought to be the best thing for her tribe.
Part Two, “The Slave”, by Ruth Downie
Next we are introduced to Ria, the bastard daughter of Boudica’s recently deceased husband, the King of the Iceni tribe. Her life is very difficult and she feels a profound sense of loneliness, not only as an orphan but also as a slave. Ria’s opinion of Boudica is very conflicted; she both hates and admires the woman who scorned her mother and kept the love of her father from her.
It is through Ria’s eyes that we see the early stirrings of the Iceni rebellion and witness first hand how Boudica suffered at the hands of the Romans. The Iceni tribe are a proud people who have been trodden upon for far too long and Boudica is portrayed as their spirited leader who gave them the motivation that they needed.
Part Three, “The Tribune”, by Russell Whitfield
I found this section to be the most difficult to read. Not only was it full of brutality, told from the perspective of a Roman officer with a legion of eighty men, but it was also filled with foul language and sexual insinuation. I believe the author was trying to create a sense of what it was like to be in the Roman Legions; a soldier’s world where butchery and rapine were shown to be rampant. It came across as incredibly harsh and at times even crude, especially when compared to the other parts of the novel. The story of Agricola and the bloody battles that he and his men fought stayed in the back of my mind throughout the remainder of the novel. It truly brought to life the savagery of the Roman occupation of Britain.
Part Four, “The Druid”, by Vicky Alvear Shecter
This was the shortest section of the novel. Yorath is a nineteen year old Druid-in-training who survives the butchery of his people on the Isle of Mona (modern day Anglesey). This part of the novel gave me the best understanding of the natives of the land–the common folk, not the tribal leaders or warriors. The author portrays the Druids as the wise men of the realm that do not hold allegiance to any one tribe but are dedicated to the land itself. The Druids are respected by all and thus they are a threat to the Romans. However, their attack of the Druids on their holy Isle only infuriates the natives more and causes many to flock to Boudica’s banner. With the loss of the Druids Boudica becomes the hope of the resistance.
Part Five, “The Son”, by S.J.A. Turney
Andecarus was my favourite character of this novel. Son of an Iceni warrior and yet raised by Romans he is able to see both sides of the rebellion. Taken as a hostage after a previous rebellion, Andecarus was trained to fight by the Romans and served time in a legion. However he feels strong loyalty to his tribe also, even though they shun him after his return. He is truly a man with a foot in each world and therefore I found his perspective to be the most interesting. I found myself pitying him and the situation in which he finds himself: caught between loyalty to his tribe and the knowledge that the Romans will eventually defeat Boudica and her rebels. His unique intelligence of the Roman mindset should have caused him to be valued by the leaders of his tribe but instead they distrust him and consider him an outsider. He is the only one that can foresee the end that will come and yet he is ignored and considered cowardly. Eventually Andecarus must decide whether to stand and fight with his tribe or flee to the Romans. His decision proves that he was the bravest member of his tribe all along.
Part Six, “The Warrior”, by Kate Quinn
I would have known this to be Kate Quinn’s work even if it had not been titled. Her writing is pure brilliance and her characters jump to life from the page. She writes of Andecarus’ father, Duro, a man I had come to dislike after his appearance in two of the previous chapters. However after reading this section I came to understand him. A revered warrior of the Iceni and Boudica’s right-hand man, I came to respect him and the decisions that he made.
This part of the novel tells of the epic battle finale between Boudica’s army and the Romans. It is vivid, brutal and shocking in it’s descriptions but not at all distasteful–nobody can write quite like this author. I will admit that it was Kate Quinn’s name that attracted my attention to this novel and as always I was not disappointed. This section of the novel is the most impressive and strikes at the very heart of the matter: why the Iceni did what they did. Through Duro’s eyes the reader is able to see and appreciate what was inside the heart and mind of a true Iceni warrior. I was devastated by the end of this section of the novel and yet inspired too. To fight with such passion and pride for your homeland puts any Roman Legionary to shame, even if the Iceni did lose the war.
Part Seven, “The Daughters”, by E. Knight
The final chapter of this book was incredibly moving. I enjoyed being able to go back in time and learn more about Boudica’s daughters; what they went through and how they felt throughout the war. To be with them at the end was so very sad, I cried buckets (even though I knew what was coming). The author does a wonderful job with her characters and through the eyes of Boudica’s daughters she gives Boudica the warrior’s end that she deserves. To see it through their perspective instead of her own was even more heart-wrenching and I understand why the author chose to do this, even though it meant that Boudica’s inner voice is never heard throughout the pages of this novel. This final chapter is dedicated to three very unique and yet equally strong women and I loved them all.
Epilogue by Stephanie Dray
I was so relieved to find this epilogue. I needed to see Cartimandua once last time before the end of the novel. The story came full circle by leaving the reader in the same place that we began. That’s exactly how I felt after finishing this novel: the same, and yet inexplicably changed somehow. I knew the bare bones of Boudica’s rebellion and I am grateful to these authors for using their incredible talent to flesh this story out for me and for everybody else who embarks on this novel. Please do, you won’t regret it.
In true historical fiction there is always an author’s note at the end and this novel was no exception. Each author has written one, which means the decisions behind each character are explained. I really appreciated this and it brought home just how much collaboration went into this work. This is the second novel written by multiple authors that I have read, the first being “A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii” which has five of the same authors. I really hope there is another one coming!