Saturday, January 30, 2010

Book 6: Warrior Queen

The story of Queen Bouidca, Warrior Queen by Alan Gold
Appropriately listening to Big Wolf Pappa's "Warrior Queen" while writing this post.
Warrior Queen is a fictionalized retelling of the story of Britain's Celtic Queen, Boudica. Full disclaimer time. My knowledge of the expansion of the Roman Empire into Africa, the Middle East, and Europe is hazy at best. Of course I've heard the history of some of the corrupt rulers, including Caligula, Claudius, and Nero. But I have to confess it will take more research than I have done to this point to say with certainty which parts of this story are historically correct, and where things have been fictionalized or even best-guessed. I'm summarizing here what I think of the book. It is fiction, though, so I fully recognize that things may be referred to here as fact that truly are not. Now, moving on....
Warrior Queen tells the story of one Iceni queen, Boudica, who led Briton in an uprising against the Roman Empire in 60 A.D. The Empire levied heavy taxes on even those Britons who were considered "friends of Rome." Boudica and her husband were the rulers of the Iceni tribe. Boudica's husband, knowing his death was near, created a will, without Boudica's knowledge, that gave half the Iceni wealth to Emporer Nero and made his two daughters Queens with Nero. When Boudica tried to get the will enforced, she was publicly whipped and her daughters raped by the Romans. Intent on revenge, Boudica became the Warrior Queen, aligning tribes with centuries-long history of warring with each other, to take on the Roman empire. I'll stop there- the story is really quite interesting, certainly a David and Goliath type of tale. But I don't want to share the ending here.
Aside from telling an interesting and compelling story, one thing the book does well is switch narration between Boudica and other Britons and the Romans. Balancing multiple viewpoints in a story can be challenging. Since there is no omniscient character, an author must take care to ensure that each character know and reveal only what is in their power to know and reveal. Too many vacillating viewpoints can confuse the reader. Alan Gold manages his characters and narration carefully, to avoid just such confusion.
This story did not move with the pace that I expected it to, although by the end I was both anxious to turn the page, and dreading the same. Anxious, because the tension and excitement were building, and dread because I did not know quite how this story was going to end, and wasn't sure I was going to be happy with the ending. I think that made up for the pacing.
I enjoyed the Druid and Roman culture and history that were presented in this story. I learned some things I did not know. I've long been fascinated with the Celts and Druids, so seeing the imagery of the Beltane festival and other symbolic ceremonies here was especially enjoyable for me. The Romans derided the British barbarians for their worship of gods and goddesses associated with nature, but there's something comforting in that same reverence to me, and I really enjoyed reading that part.
Some things that stood out to me while reading this book. As is the case with seemingly all invasions, there was an element of a clash of religions here. The Romans sought to eradicate the Druid tradition and replace it with the Roman gods and goddesses. The same, time-worn and still true today story of "My religion is better than yours." Seems to be at the root of so many wars, doesn't it?
When I read of Boudica's internal struggle with how much of the Roman culture to embrace, I started thinking about what I would do in a situation like that. Prasutagus, Boudica's husband, was of the belief that friending the Romans would preserve their lives and livelihood much better than would an attempt to fight against them. Should they fight, they would at best end up slaves of the Empire. At worst, they would die at the hands of the Romans. So they compromised, and cooperated with the Romans and then were betrayed by the very same. At that point, freedom became paramount. Death was preferable to living as a Roman subject, in any form. I don't know what that point is for me. What is the thing that is so important to fight for, that I must not be silent and begin to fight against it now? What is that thing I would give my life for? I do think sovereignty and freedom are in that list, but are there other things now that I should be fighting for and am not?
That is not a complete digression from the book. I think any good story should make you think about whether or not you would have the courage to act in the way the protagonist does. Of course Bouduica had her flaws. But she got it, she understood, that there are things that are worth fighting and dying for. Shouldn't we all know at what point we would do the same?
A statue of Queen Boudica still resides near the Houses of Parliament in Britain today. I've pasted a link here to a Historic UK site that provides an image of the statue and a brief history of Boudica.
I'd recommend this book to anyone with an interest in historical fiction, or Celtic and/or Roman History.
Next up? I'm not sure... I'll have an audiobook review here soon, Harry, a History, by Melissa Anelli. I'm contemplating Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone next, as I want to re-read the entire series before the first of the last two movies comes out in November. But I have several other books I'm interested in as well, so I need to decide what to read next.

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