A Year of Ravens is an anthology about the revolt of Boudica against Rome. It spans one whole year and focuses on different characters around the famous Iceni queen, with each chapter penned by a different author. I picked up this book because I absolutely love Kate Quinn, one of the authors of this novel. After finishing the novel, I have discovered other authors to read as I can honestly say I enjoyed each and every chapter of this book.
Ben Kane introduces the book and then we are thrust into some backstory with Stephanie Dray. She centers her story, “The Queen”, on Cartimandua, queen of the Brigantes. As she states in the afterword, understanding Cartimandua helps a lot in understanding Boudica and her revolt. Cartimandua, unlike Boudica, is fine with the alliance of Rome and her people. She sees it as necessary in keeping her people safe, no matter if they call her traitor and spit on her grave for it. We first get to see Boudica through Cartimandua’s friendship with Boudica’s husband, Prasautugas. There is another view point in this chapter – that of Catus Decianus, the procurator of Rome who started the whole mess when he allows his soldiers to whip Boudica at her husband’s funeral. And other stuff, which you probably know if you know the story of Boudica.
The next part of the novel, “The Slave”, is written by Ruth Downie and centers around Ria, the bastard daughter of Prasautugas. This allows us to get a little closer to Boudica and her daughters. And even the legendary Queen of the Iceni herself, albeit briefly.
“The Tribune” is written by Russell Whitfield, whom I know as the author of the Gladiatrix series and who, like me, worships the ground Donna Gillespie walks on (or at least cites her as one of his influences). He tells us of the massacre on the island of Mona through the eyes of a young tribune of Rome, Agricola. I particularly enjoyed the profanity in this part. 🙂
On the heels of the massacre, we get a picture of the aftermath by Vicky Alvear Shecter in “The Druid”. She provides us with two view points – that of a young druid named Yorath and a young Roman legionary named Felix. The debates these two have over war was amusing. Maybe I was hallucinating, but I was able to see a lot of parallels to today’s world when those two verbally sparred. Often, I imagined them as modern day college dudes arguing in a cafeteria.
Next up, S.J.A. Turney drops us into the world of Andecarus, biological son of Boudica’s right hand, Duro. Andecarus popped up in previous chapters, but really getting to know him now is wonderful. He was given up to the Romans as a hostage after a previous failed rebellion. Now, back with his people, he feels like he doesn’t belong. He feels like his father cares more for a big brute he fostered than his real flesh and blood. This chapter focuses on that strained relationship while also showing us how Andecarus is pulled in the middle of this war. After all, he was raised Roman, fought with the legions for a time, and now is expected to kill people he once knew. Oh, did I mention he was raised by Catus Decianus? Adds some extra flavor to the poor mess he’s in.
Kate Quinn continues the father/son storyline in her part of the novel, “The Warrior”, which as you might guess, focuses on Duro. Things have been going well for the Iceni by now. The druid Yorath from earlier urges Boudica to fight the Romans in the open. The gods have promised them victory. Yet, Andecarus continues to protest against it. Duro, meanwhile, wants to be proud of his son, but he hates the Romans. He believes in victory. And he also keeps Catus Decianus’ wife as a slave, which makes for some amusing battle of wits. Classic Kate Quinn here. But Quinn does something she hasn’t done much of before – she writes the final battle. It is an engrossing scene and a very powerful march toward the end of the novel.
But it’s not quite the end, as E. Knight draws the novel to a slow but satisfying close by focusing on Boudica’s last days with her daughters, Keena and Sorcha. Sorcha is the oldest, the spitting image of her mother with a temper and anger at the world to match. Keena, on the other hand, is her sister’s complete opposite. Small and dark, Keena would rather heal people than hurt them. Throughout the novel, she’d been much of a mouse. But here, with her own viewpoint, she shines through and comes into her own. Sorcha gives us her view, too, and it is a very interesting look into her world.
The end returns with Cartimandua commanding the Epilogue, written once more by Stephanie Dray. It is a nice ending and honestly, I was sad to see this anthology end. I enjoyed every single story. Maybe because I was a Classical Civilization minor, but books like this absolutely give me the feels, especially when they are well written. This one is a keeper.
My rating: 5/5
P.S. Happy New Year! May 2016 be a great one! 🙂