Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes
A Year of Ravens is one of those memorable books that will live on in your imagination for years to come. Each scene, written with exquisite skill, vivid imagery, and attention to detail, is reminiscent of the best motion picture moments that we enjoy over and over.
Year of Ravens is written by seven distinguished authors (Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, and Russell Whitfield) who among them have published over 130 books. Each author writes a single chapter, but rather than a disjointed and distracting change in style and wording, the chapters flow together seamlessly. Each chapter is a showpiece of imagery, composition, and imagination. The reader sees and feels the action as it unfolds.
Boudica, leader of the ancient Iceni tribe in East Anglia, continues to stir the hearts and the imagination of Britons and Romanophiles around the world. She is known for challenging the power of Rome and her mighty Legions in 60 A.D. The goals of her rebellion were to avenge her personal humiliation, break the yoke of Roman control over Britannia, and to restore tribal life as it existed prior to the Roman invasion. Before her devastating defeat at the hands of Governor Gaius Suestonius Paulinus and his 10,000 Legionaries, Boudica’s rebellion destroyed the Roman colonies at Camuldonum (modern Colchester), Londinum (London), and Verulamium (St Albans). It is said that her army killed over 80,000 Romans and those unfortunate locals who happened to get caught up in the maelstrom. Iceni brutality wrought on these hapless colonies matched that of Rome’s legendary cruelty.
By the Late Middle Ages, history forgot Boudica, but she was rediscovered during the Renaissance along with the works of the Roman historian Tacitus. Since the mid-1500s, Boudica has been celebrated in art, plays, songs, films, a TV series, novels, comic books, and an excellent documentary on the History Channel. She reached her peak of acclaim during the Victorian Era when Queen Victoria came to be seen as Boudica’s “namesake.”
It is probably safe to say that many, if not most, aficionados of Rome’s vaunted military might view the destruction of Boudica and her Iceni tribe as just another Roman conquest over restive barbarians. However, A Year of Ravens will reveal that there is much more to the story. While the battle between the Iceni and the Legions will forever provide a stirring case study of professional arms over a brave, but disorganized foe, A Year of Ravens portrays Boudica and the Iceni as a people with aspirations, feelings, deep spiritual values, and hope for a better future. Overall, the book presents a reasonably balanced approach between the attitudes and values of the Romans and the Iceni, but tilts decidedly in favor of the Iceni.
In addition to the famous battle that destroyed the Iceni, the book provides a stirring account of the Roman conquest of Mona (modern Isle of Anglesey). The Celts were not a fanatically religious people, but the Romans saw Druidism as a serious menace-and Anglesey, spiritual home of the Druids, as the center of that threat. Accordingly, in 60 A.D., Governor Suestonius Paulinus marched his Legions to that faraway northwest corner of Britannia, conducted an aggressive amphibious assault near Caernarfon across the narrow straits separating the mainland from the Isle, and destroyed everything associated with Druidism. It was here that he learned of Boudica’s rebellion.
Each of the seven chapters may be briefly described as follows:
A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.
A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.
An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.
A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.
A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.
An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the Legions.
A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.
A Year of Ravens is, indeed, an exceptional book that will not disappoint. I give it my highest recommendation.
Thomas A. Timmes is the author of Legio XVII: Roman Legion at War