The Eagle & The Raven

End Date:  December 19

Author:  Pauline Gedge

Published:  1978

Genre:  Historical Fiction

Pages:  694 (hardcover)

Selected By:  Elle Tea

Average Score: Scoring Loved Book

“Spanning three generations, this historical novel tells the tale of Boudicca, the most famous warrior of ancient Britain, and Caradoc, the son of a Celtic king who sets out to unite the people of the Raven and lead them against Rome.  Caradoc’s objective is not easily accomplished as the Roman army advances into Britain, raping Celtic women and burning villages to the ground.  His efforts are also met with fierce opposition from former allies and his own sundered kin.  Ultimately, Boudicca, a strong-willed woman, takes up the cause that was his legacy.” – adapted from the Goodreads summary.

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Gigglemug Reviews

Elle Tea: Scoring Loved Book

So we agreed last month that this next rotation would be a selection of our favorites – we’d each select a book in our month that the selector had already read, one which said selector really loves and feels everyone should read at some point in their lives.  And for me, hands down, that book is The Eagle and the Raven by Pauline Gedge.

“Men who could work preferred to beg, and the artists forgot that their calling was noble and became imitators instead of creators.”

The main thing I really want to stress is that the synopsis of this novel does this book a terrible disservice.  The real meat of the tale involves a flesh-and-blood warrior-chief who gathered the British tribes in a bid to stop the incessant march of the Roman machine, Caradoc of the CatuvellauniWhile Boudicca is, indeed, threaded throughout the novel, she doesn’t actually “take up the cause that was his legacy” until roughly 80% of the story is already told.  And while the Roman army did its fair share of “raping Celtic women and burning villages to the ground,” Gedge does an absolutely phenomenal job of making them less like the mindless wheel of violence and hatred that is implied and instead makes them human: yes, there are those who despise everything the Britons stand for, from their “savage” religion to their “barbaric” lifestyles, but there are also those who find themselves on the shores of England and Wales under orders (these were predominantly military men, after all) and come to respect the men and women they’re told to break, who want to sit down and talk with them, who want to learn from them, who sympathize with and even try to befriend and love them.

” ‘We are different, my husband… We will always be different, no matter how often you lime your hair or however many new bronzes you sport.  Outwardly we can return to the ways of our ancestors… but whether you like it or not, those years have changed us… In here we cannot go back, though our roots reach deep.’ “

I could take up pages and pages regaling you with my love for this book.  It’s my favorite of all time for so many reasons: it’s beautifully written; it gives a forgotten freedom fighter and folk hero the chance to be remembered for his own accomplishments and not just remain a footnote in his brother’s and successor’s stories; it was published almost four decades ago and yet, for the most part, still remains historically accurate (as opposed to another of Gedge’s novels, Child of the Morning, which, while still beautiful and entertaining has been proven in the last few years to be inaccurate in terms of the true reign and probable demise of its subject); the author’s skill as a historical novelist is unprecedented – Gedge gives all of her characters so much life that it’s easy to forget you’re actually getting a bit of a history lesson, and I had more than one fact-based historical conversation with a couple of the Ladies to point out where the real history ended and the novelization began; and, in the end, it’s just a damn good story.

” ‘Caradoc may journey in our country, as he has done among the Silures and the Demetae, for I am lord of a scattered people.  Then we will hold a greater Council, calling all chiefs from the hidden valleys, and make our decision… If the Catuvellaunian can conquer the mountains then he can lead us.  For we are the mountains.’ “

Lady Esbe does a really great job covering the main characters and the novelization itself, so I’ve trimmed all of that out of my review (make sure to thank her, since that was something like four pages of what can really just be summed up by me screaming over and over again in excited squeals, “Ermegerd, it’s so great, I love it, I love it, I love it, and I want to read it all over again, except my heart can’t take being broken that many times in the span of a month!”).  I’m not much of a romantic, as my patient mancub can attest, but I am terribly sentimental, and, strangely enough, nothing seems to get to me quite so much as history.  So, out of respect, I want to include a bit about the real situation between the ancient Britons and the Roman Empire that was outlined in the novel.

I’d like to think this wasn’t necessary, but in case some of you just got to this planet:   *****SPOILER ALERT***** >>> Okay.  Now that that’s over with, I’m assuming if you’re still reading this that you already know Britain ultimately did fall to the Roman Empire.  If you didn’t know that, well… I figure you were probably also surprised when the ship sank at the end of Titanic, and there’s just not a lot I can do now but apologize.

” ‘You must admit, Boudicca, that under him the Catuvellauni have been destroyed as a tuath.’  ‘As a tuath, yes, but not as a free people, those that are left.  To you he is a crazy, ragged outcast with a price on his head, but to the men of the west he is arviragus, a savior.’  ‘Savior from what?  His followers die like flies from starvation, from the sword, when at one word from him they could lay down their arms, go back to their towns, and live in peace.  I say he is a murderer.’  ‘It would be the peace of the soul’s death.’ “

A coworker (and fellow history buff) had actually recommended this novel to me about fifteen or sixteen years ago, after a week’s worth of lunchbreaks spent in heated debate over the subject of the Roman conquest of Britain, and I remember sitting down with her battered, dog-eared copy and absolutely devouring it in the space of one week.  Afterwards, I spent countless hours digging up everything I could find about Caradoc only to be disappointed – while there seems to be plenty of information, artwork, statuary, and opinion about Boudicca readily available, there is very little available about the man who lit the torch of freedom for the tribes to begin with, and most of that is sadly referenced under the name by which the Romans called him: Caractacus.

” ‘I know you, Venutius.  Brigantian chief.  We fought side by side for a while, did we not?  And then you grew weary and hungry and you left us…  You are not wanted here.  We do not trust you.’ “

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The Eagle and the Raven covers the Roman invasion of Britain and begins with the family of arguably the most powerful king of the isles at the time, Cunobelin (also a Romanized name) and his sons: Adminius, Togodumnus, and Caradoc.  It can get confusing when one tries to break down all of the tribes and their relationships and allegiances with one another, but the main ones within this story are the two primary tribes held by Cunobelin’s family, the Trinovantes (in Camulodunum, modern Colchester) and the Catuvellauni (in Verlamion, modern St. Albans), as well as their northeastern neighbors the Iceni (in modern Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire), the Ordovices (in northern Wales), and the Brigantes (in Brigantia, which made up most of what is now Northern England).

“For a time they stood eye to eye, exchanging a charge of determination, an agreement to fight or fall together.  But it was not friendship.  They understood one another, that was all.”

Cunobelin himself truly did have a fairly friendly relationship with Rome, even taking for himself the Latin title Rex (King), though the fates of his sons were a just a tad bit different than presented in this novel.  Adminius, portrayed as the most Roman of Cunobelin’s sons, originally oversaw the tribe of the Cantiaci (in modern Kent).  He truly did end up in Rome attempting to garner favor with Caligula, but he certainly didn’t end up there on his own steam: he was either banished from Britain by his father or, more likely, chased from his homeland by his brothers.  Caligula, one of history’s most batsh** insane leaders, chose to interpret Adminius’s arrival in Rome as submission of all of Britain and ordered his army off to make war upon the ocean itself and collect seashells as trophies of war – as one does, I suppose.  Anti-Roman sentiment had existed in Britain since at least Caesar’s time, spurred on still further by Cunobelin’s other two sons, and it rose all the more when Rome denied Cunobelin’s request to have his fugitive son returned to him.  And all of this, combined with the expansion of Cunobelin’s realm into other tribes’ territories, eventually snowballed into a Roman force of roughly 40,000 showing up in Britain.

” ‘I cannot remember a time when I was without you, and now time stretches ahead of me, an infinity of meaningless, dead days, carrying me from nowhere into nothing, and fate laughs at your pathetic, pitiful ending.  You and I together.  You and I apart.  Forever.  I sacrifice you, I lay down your life – for what?  For the chance of a chance.  Die well, beloved, as you have lived.’  Pain crushed him at last to the earth.  He put his face into his hands and wept.”

In the novel, Caradoc and Togodumnus have a strained relationship and are eventually forced to come to an agreement over who stands to inherit which parts of their father’s lands upon Cunobelin’s death, choosing to carve up their father’s legacy and both reign as kings.  In reality, upon the death of their father it was Togodumnus who inherited, probably without much argument from Caradoc at all since Togodumnus was clearly the elder of the two.  Together, they pushed back against the invading armies of the empire; Togodumnus was either killed or defeated (there is also some speculation that he might have sided with Rome – this has been refuted and is still in debate, but the written history of their contemporaries seems to corroborate that Togodumnus was either dead or missing when Caradoc took over), and only then did Caradoc become appointed as the king over the tribes allied against Rome.

” ‘I am sorry about Sine,’ he offered gruffly.  ‘Yet, Emrys, she will live again.’  Emrys’s eyes seemed to gather all the hurt on his face into themselves.  ‘I know,’ he whispered.  ‘But not with me.’ “

After a series of successful battles, Caradoc was eventually defeated at the Battle of Medway, but the Romans failed to capture him as he had fled to the Welsh mountains, where he remained for seven years and continued to challenge their regimented authority with guerrilla tactics.  He was eventually defeated there in or around Year 51, and the Romans were able to catch his wife and at least one of his children – but not him, as he this time made his way northward to the Brigantes.  And, as in the novel, this proved to be a terribly misguided error: the Brigantian queen, Cartimandua, had a strong alliance with Rome and immediately handed him over to face their justice.  Caradoc, his wife, and their children were taken from Britain, paraded through the streets of Rome, and displayed in the center of the capital to await their execution; however, by this point he had become a sort of romantic character to the Roman populace, thanks mostly to the idealized accounts by sentimental contemporary historians of the day who portrayed him as a noble savage to be admired for his pluck and pitied for his poor luck.  The emperor by this time, Claudius, granted Caradoc the opportunity to speak on his own behalf and answer for his crimes, essentially plea for his life and the lives of his family, which he successfully did in a speech made famous by Tacitus; it’s highly unlikely that these were Caradoc’s actual words – Tacitus was certainly not fluent in Brittonic, and whether Caradoc himself was fluent enough in Latin is a matter of debate, but whatever he said worked, and Caradoc and his family were reportedly released.  There is no account of what became of him afterwards, though it is believed he was kept in Rome.

” ‘For ten years I have existed here, closing my eyes and ears to Albion’s torment, then something like this happens and I know that I am nothing but a stranger mourning in a foreign land… All we wanted was to be left alone.  Such a little word, freedom, such a small request, and yet the asking of it has consumed the soul of a people.’ “

Not long after his removal from the Isles, the Ordovices rebelled en masse, and the Roman governor reportedly had the entire tribe exterminated.  While they did disappear from history, it’s uncertain whether his attempt was entirely successful – the mountains may have allowed at least a few survivors to escape to safety.  Roughly ten years later, Boudicca led an alliance of tribes – including her own (the Iceni) and the Trinovantes – in a revolt against the Empire, ultimately destroying Camulodunum (by this point a Roman settlement), Verlamion, and Londinium (modern London), and killing approximately 75,000 Romans and their British allies and slaves.  She was famously defeated in the Midlands, and either killed herself to avoid being taken back to Rome or became ill and died not long after the defeat.  Even after that, another bid was made for freedom in Year 69, when the Brigantes revolted against Cartimandua’s rule, and tribal rivalry escalated into an anti-Roman revolt led by a Brigantes noble named Venutius.

All in all, it took 40 years for the Roman Empire to bring Britain to heel, and even then they were never fully conquered, as Rome consistently had to ensure a strong military presence for the entire 350 years in which they maintained control over the Isles.  <<< *****END SPOILER*****

As Lady Esbe and I animatedly discussed one evening, it’s so easy to read this novel and get into the “Man, those Romans… They just couldn’t stop, could they?  Should’ve just left the Britons their friggin’ island and moved on, yeah?”  But what sort of nations would rule the island today?  With the departure of Rome, the Saxons arrived, and then the Vikings.  And even the people whom the Romans considered the native inhabitants, the Britons, were themselves conquerors, having brought their Celtic culture and lifestyles from the Continent.

So.  Yes.  I love this book.  Number one super-duper favorite of all time.  And I would recommend it whole-heartedly to anyone who loves history, especially as it pertains to Celtic culture or the history of the British Isles, or if you’re looking to be thoroughly invested in a series of characters who will crack you up, piss you off, and break your heart… often all at the same time.

Elle’s Favorite Character:  Caradoc, Cinnamus, Emrys, and Sine.

Elle read the Dial Press hardcover version of this book.

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BillMo: Scoring Great Book

This was a great book, and I believe any parts that made me angry or sad are probably the ones that are historically accurate.  This sort of novel is a great way to get casual readers interested in real history.

“The tears ran down Caradoc’s cheeks as they hewed at each other and the warrior fell to the ground.  ‘Who will purify me from the blood of my people?’ “

I really liked the above quote because when some of Caradoc’s people turned against him to fight with the Romans, he genuinely felt bad about it and was haunted by the idea of taking the lives of his own people.  It was most interesting of all to me to see how this ancient culture was so driven by the idea of honor.  That’s a word that I don’t believe can be applied to many these days, and people certainly don’t value the abstract idea of it nearly as much as they probably should.

“To die is simple.  To live is too hard.”

In The Eagle and the Raven, readers go between several different places, and I found that all of my favorite locations were made so purely by the presence of Caradoc and his family.  A close second would be the island of Mona, where the Druithin resided; as the spiritual leaders of the Celtic peoples, their way of life and of viewing the world seemed so magical that I almost found myself believing magic could exist in the ancient world.

“Those who cannot walk must crawl, and those who cannot crawl must die so that they may run.”

My least favorite character is, oddly enough, not Aricia (Cartimandua), the queen who eventually betrays her own kin and country for the sake of a little comfort.  Aricia was a wicked and manipulative woman, but she was consistently wicked and manipulative, so I was never surprised when she acted out.  My favorite character in the beginning was the Brigantian chief Venutius, because his high sense of honor and expectations matched Caradoc’s without ever requiring him to lose himself to his purpose (like with Caradoc), and it was because of the way he began that, when Venutius made such stupid decisions for the stupidest possible reason and cost so many good people their lives, he quickly became my least favorite character of all.  I mean, as Elle and I discussed, in history so many men have made poor decisions that nearly destroyed their countries all for their desire of some woman (Henry VIII, I’m looking right at you), so it’s totally believable… but Pauline Gedge puts you in those moments rather than letting you stay comfortably distant like with history books, so living through the betrayals and the losses really influenced my opinion of him more heavily than it might have otherwise.

“Men must change or die.”

I felt very sad for the tribes, too.  I don’t agree with all of their raiding and meaningless killing of each other and the Roman settlers, but I’m from a different time and culture, where most of my time is spent in comfort rather than under threat.  All the tribes wanted was to be left to live their lives in the ways they had chosen, to raise their children in their culture and worship their own gods, and, most importantly, to be free to do all of those things… or not, if they so chose.  And, really, who wouldn’t want that?

” ‘I suppose death is a going away, just as birth is a coming in,’ he said awkwardly.  ‘It is only people who change.’ “

What happened to Boudicca and her daughters, not to mention her entire town and people, really hurt my soul.  And, in the end, I believe Caradoc himself would have been happier dying in his homeland rather than having to live out the rest of his life in a foreign land where he was a sort of exotic pet.  It makes it even sadder that these were real people, that these things really happened to them, and it was actually this that made it a four for me rather than a five – that I just felt so overwhelmed by the realness of it all that it was sometimes hard to process from the comfort of my cozy 21st-century home.

“Far away, in the swirling autumn mists of Albion, the light of freedom flickered and went out.”

BillMo’s Favorite Character:  Initially Venutius, but Eurgain the Elder by the end.  She was so calm and decisive and a very noble woman who clearly valued her own honor highly.

BillMo read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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The Divine Ms. Em: Scoring Loved Book

Review to Come!

Ms. Em’s Favorite Character:  To Come!

Ms. Em read the Amazon Kindle version of this book.

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Lady Esbe:Scoring Loved Book

It has always escaped me exactly how the Roman Empire managed to get a stranglehold on the British Isles.  I’ll admit, the question flits through my mind once in a blue moon and it wasn’t like I was going to take the time to read a history book (an honest to goodness history book) to glean the information.  However, I do appreciate Ms. Gedge’s use of historical facts and her logical conjectures of how events would have played out.  It is clearly, such a well thought out novel with enough plausible emotion and events, that I put the book down for several days (ok, I did cheat, I began googling what happened to Caradoc) because I just couldn’t deal with the treachery to befall Caradoc.  Ms. Gedge, most definitely had me invested in these figures of history to the point of being stressed out over events that have long since cease to matter.  It’s history, after all.

“There had always been choice.  Freedom meant choice.  Rome removed the choices.  Freedom could not exist without honor, and honor went hand in hand with freedom.”

As with the New World, the numerous tribes that inhabited the British Isles was a veritable mishmash of loose alliances and stringent enemies that could never get past their petty to serious grievances to prevent certain servitude at the hands of the Romans.  At the start of the novel, we are in the timeframe that is after Julius Caesar failed to conquer Britannia but was able to have trade and an uneasy alliance with the Catuvellauni and other various tribes.  The Catuvellauni, being the most amenable to the Romans while holding on to their own power via the royal family sired by Cunobeline, is probably one of the most affluent, yet vicious groups there is within Britannia.  The peace that was crafted and massaged was for trade primarily and very little political influence.  However, the death of Cunobeline caused a rift in his kingdom amongst the three sons, Caradoc, Togodumnus and Adminius.  I think the best way to describe them is that they are the best representation of the turmoil that is the island of Britannia.  Adminius is the willing servant of Rome, luxuriating in Rome’s creature comforts and affluence.  Whereas Togdodumnus is more like the wildlings of Britannia, enjoying the raids and the swagger of his predecessors, all the while never truly cultivating alliances that may help him in the future.  Finally, there is Caradoc, the wise one, who knew his limitations and doubted himself, as would some of the reasonable tribes who liked the comforts of Rome, but loved their freedom and autonomy more.  However, I won’t spend very much time on this because there is just so much in this novel to address.

 One of the most striking things I noticed in the book is the vast contrast between the “strong” women of the book.  Each character has a strength, or weakness dependent upon your perspective.  To my disdain, there is the very manipulative, Aricia (aka Cartimandua), who was raised among the Catuvellauni and later removed to her own tribe of Brigantia.  The root of Aricia’s problems is her self-centered, obnoxious and self-indulgent ways.  From an early age she was using her sexuality to manipulate Caradoc, to no avail (Yeah, Caradoc. . . though you fell victim, you did not allow yourself to be trapped by her wiles).  She felt she was deserving of absolute obedience from her lovers and her tribe.  When this did not happen, then she wanted to destroy.  To put it simply, she is a sadist.  Causing Caradoc, and then later, her husband, Venutius as much pain as possible for simple pleasure of control.  Everyone else’s pain gave her pleasure and yet, she still couldn’t fill that void where her heart or soul should have been.  She is everything that you hate in a woman:  vain, calculating, malicious and just down right vindictive.  Her motivations are never for the good of her people, only for herself, as she proves time and again.  But the ultimate betrayal of a childhood friend, was the deliverance of Caradoc into Roman captivity.

“I wish that men were not dumb, stupid game pieces of the fates.  I wish that I could take destiny and bend it to my will.”

While I wasn’t a big fan of Boudicca, mainly because she was portrayed more as a spoiled brat than anything else for two thirds of her appearance in the novel, I do feel for her plight.  If she had learned the adage, “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” would have saved her a whole hell of a lot of heartache.  Her inability to have a poker face and her constant beating those around her about the head with her very strong ideas did herself and her family no favors.  I think I felt more for her husband Prasutagus than for her.  He was the diplomat and the long suffering husband of the woman who just couldn’t hold her tongue.  While her grievances were credible, her belaboring the point did not help the situation, but telegraphed her intentions.  If she were a smart woman, she would have realized her antagonism of her husband, his friend, etc. was not welcome.  What absolutely floored me was when Prasutagus was on his death bed and knowing that their Roman overseers were not fans of hers, she didn’t try a less abrasive approach.  No, like a bull in a china shop she kept barreling through like she had any real power.  Her overt contempt and boorish manner in dealing with the Romans was a direct cause to her children being horrifically violated and she being flogged.  Well, I completely blame her.  She was too arrogant to realize that Prasutagus was the means to the peace and safety she enjoyed.  People tolerated her because of him.  A logical and wise person who was aware of their constant antagonism would have taken precautions, like flee into the west with the other rebels to at least attempt to gain some safety for her children.  Nope, not Boudicca, let’s make the girls a target and then get offended when the Romans “put them in their place.”

There is no excuse for what the Romans did to Boudicca and her children.  However, I lay the blame squarely on her broad bullish shoulders.  At no time did she attempt to protect her children in foresight.  It wasn’t as if it were hours after Prasutagus died and they were set upon by the corrupt tax collector and his gang.  No, this was well after Prasutagus’s funeral.  She had time to steal away and put some distance between her children and those who would attempt to harm them.  After the violation, you feel so angered that you are willing to take up arms.  Great, be a war hero.  However, her method of attack was to take out civilian sites versus predominately military locations.  Her cause was not freedom for her people, but vengeance.  She wanted revenge for all the harm done to her and her children, and rightfully so.  However, because she was not charismatic or personable, she could only lead people to the point of blind violence and not a truly organized campaign.  While I commend her standing up for herself, her people and her freedom, I just couldn’t reconcile that most of her woes were caused by herself.

“Freedom is a word that children use.  No man who ever lived was free.”

Where Boudicca and Aricia were selfish and demanding women, there were those who were strong in a quiet sense.  Eurgain, wife of Caradoc, is one such woman.  I believe as the Druid believed, that if she were born in a different time, she would have been a Druid herself.  However, she is the even keel to Caradoc’s rages and eases his mind when he needs it the most.  Where Aricia was manipulative and self-centered, Eurgain was open, honest, kind and able to see the forest for the trees and quietly back her husband.  Eurgain’s constant calm kept Caradoc in a frame of mind to think clearly.  She did not add to his problems, but did provide him with another wise voice in counsel and understanding to help him in his impossible mission.  She did not become jealous when he spent more time in their youth with Aricia and his time as arvirargus in his later years, attempting to organize the rebels; but she did remain solid and within reach when he needed her.  I respect this quiet strength and wish that Caradoc could have used her more fully in their war planning.  However, she was also an accomplished swordswoman who most definitely pulled her weight on the battlefield on his behalf as well.

“Honor in time of war was a luxury, in time of peace a safeguard.  Nothing more.”

While little is said of Sine, warrior and wife of Emerys, her strength is felt from the beginning and definitely to her end.  She is ying to Emerys’ yang.  Both are fierce warriors, but no matter what they are devoted to one another but staunch supporters of their cause.  Sine is forceful, challenging and fair.  Even when she knows that a plan may be ill-conceived, she is the good soldier and does as she is bid by her arvirgarus.  She backs down from no man or woman and willing puts her sword and life on the line if it is meant to serve the greater good.  Honestly, she could have easily pretended to do Venetius’ bidding and come back to him and said, “no, she’s lying let’s not deal with it,” but she walked into a trap knowing it was likely the last thing she would do and never see her husband again.  This fortitude and strength that she shows is unlike any other character in the book.  She sees the hard line, she doesn’t balk at it.  No, she says her peace and she moves on with the plan.  I can honestly say it is  a tie between her and Eurgain as to why I love the women characters in this book.

“Freedom or death, arviragus.”

The final female character I’d like to highlight is the elder Gladys.  From the beginning to her “capture” by the Romans, she gave off an ethereal beauty and strength.  She was most at home by the sea and secondly in battle.  Upon resigning herself to the death of her tuath, Gladys voluntarily stayed behind to lead the remaining freeman and slaves against the Romans.  Like her sister, Eurgain, (sic; Gladys is Caradoc’s sister, making her Eurgain’s sister-in-law – GML) she exudes a quiet strength, but is willing to challenge Caradoc on his decisions as he makes them, openly, but respectfully.  I think it took a great deal of strength in her to accept Paulinus as more than her conquering but as her other half.  She could have lived in fear of being banished from the tribe (and of course she was) but she also was able to read Paulinus for what he was, a good man who was doing a job that was abhorrent to her, but he was respectful and earned her trust and love.  The fact that she allowed herself to assimilate for her sake and his, wasn’t the actions of a weak person.  She could have easily committed suicide.  She could have easily just given up and died during the Roman conquest.  But she didn’t and then was able to later able provide Eurgain and Caradoc some solace, even if through her Roman husband.

“Albion, Albion, he cried out in his soul.  Turbulent and treacherous, wild and magical, you dreamed a dream with me.  We dared to hazard a great thing together and I have emptied my soul but I have failed you.  The ashes of my dearest dead lie in your soil.  Guard them well.”

I’ll touch briefly on the two true arvirgarus in this novel, Caradoc and Venetius.  Boudicca is a self-appointed leader and I do not count her as arvigarus, especially when her plight wasn’t really about saving the people, so much as exacting revenge and I can’t quite reconcile her to arvirgarus status.  Anyway, Caradoc and Venetius share two major problems.  The first is their almost crippling love of Aricia (aka Cartimandua).  While Caradoc sowed his wild oats with her, he realized that she was not a good fit for him and thus, not a good fit for the Catuvellauni.  Good for him, recognizing that she was manipulative and he was weak when it came to her in that respect.  Unfortunately, Venetius, being the noble man that he is (yeah, he should have killed her when he had the chance in those early days), wanted to believe that she was a strong and righteous leader like her father.  That he was honorable and would do the best for her people.  However, her mental abuse seemed to sway this great warrior in the worst of ways, emasculating him by her actions.  His casting off of her influence was too little too late, when Caradoc was taken and subsequently, his faltering and sending Sine to investigate the veracity of Aricia’s claims of being on her death bed.  Both men, realize that there was something about her that heated their blood.  Yet, in my mind, there is no “ehem” that good in the world.  Both were severely burned by her misdeeds, but they both pulled themselves up, as much as they could, to carry on.

The second major issue for these two men is the onerous task of organizing and leading tribes/tuaths of men and women who didn’t truly want to cooperate with one another.  The only thing they all could agree on is that they did not want to be subjugated by the Romans.  However, the methodology in achieving this goal was something that would not be agreed upon by the tribes, but for the leadership of the arvirgarus.  I liken it to the coalition against a terrorist group.  Everyone can agree that the terrorist group is bad and must be ousted.  However, who is going to lead and how the battle plan is to unfold is often the point of contention, same thing, different time period.  Caradoc and Venetius found effective means in battling the legions.  However, because the tuaths wanted to have their way, and would eventually decide their way was better than that of that of the arvirgarus, it all fell apart time and again.  Caradoc understood that fighting in the open, toe-to-toe with the Romans as for naught, as did Venetius.  However, because these methods were successful, the tuaths became cocky and thought, “yeah, let’s take them on head on.” Uh no!  Did you not see that well-oiled machine that has run roughshod over most of the “known” world at the time.  Caradoc was charismatic and could gain support through his words alone.  Venetius had to be more tactically minded, as he did not have the tuaths’ trust because of his beloved wife, Aricia.  I’ll even give Boudicca an honorable mention here.  She understood that they had an upperhand on the legions and should proceed immediately after them.  But, no, the tribes following her decided it was more important to pillage first.? Say what now?  Rather than get the occupiers out of your lands, you thought filling up your cart with gold and whatnot was the most important thing at this juncture?  Seriously?  Yeah, that’s just asinine and to that point, they deserved to be routed. Could you imagine what would have happened if they had followed Caradoc to the flourishing of his plans or even Venetius and Boudicca?  What would the world look like with Britannia as the winners?  Just wow.

“It is nobler to die in defense than to live in victory.  Your pride is blind arrogance, and your honor is only unstained because here in the mountains it has never been put to the test.”

Overall, I completely enjoyed this novel.  I was stressed, angry, baffled and downright disappointed in how many people behaved throughout.  However, the realism with which each character was portrayed had me rooting for some, wishing Caradoc and Cinnamus were around today for me to date (I’m not too proud to admit I was smitten), wishing to go back and slap Boudicca in the back of the head and wanting to take a blade to Aricia’s lovely neck.  Thank you Elle Tea for choosing this one.  It was well worth the read and I’m very glad I decided to purchase the hardback copy because this shall remain in my collection!

Lady Esbe’s Favorite Character:  Caradoc, Cinnamus, Venutius, Eurgain the Elder, Sine, and Gladys the Elder.

Esbe read the Macmillan hardcover version of this book.

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