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Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle
Manda Scott
Transworld/Bantam (UK) / Delacorte Press (US), 542 pages

Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle
Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle
Manda Scott
Manda Scott spent the first decade of her professional life as a vet, moving from surgery to anaesthesia, to equine neo-natal intensive care and back again. Then her first thriller, Hen's Teeth (The Women's Press) was short-listed for the Orange prize after which she discovered that writing could be just as rewarding as veterinary medicine, rarely involved shooting anything she really cared about and never required her to make life and death decisions at four o'clock in the morning. So now she now writes (almost) full time.

Manda Scott Website
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Past Feature Reviews
A review by William Thompson

Until now British veterinary surgeon and novelist Manda Scott has been known for her crime novels, short-listed for the Orange Prize for Hen's Teeth and hailed by The Times as "one of Britain's most important crime writers." Suspect this is about to change, at least in part. With Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle, Ms. Scott has turned in the opening novel to a trilogy that bodes to join the ranks of Mary Stewart, Edith Pargeter and Sharon Kay Penman in historical re-imagining, and of a quality that other novelists, such as Morgan Llywelyn, Judith Tarr and Guy Gavriel Kay aspire to but to date have failed to entirely achieve.

Turning to an earlier chapter than the first three authors mentioned yet recreating the history of two of Britain's earliest heroes, prototypes for Arthur and others to follow, Boudica tells the story of the warrior queen that united and led many of the British tribes in their rebellion against the Romans in 61-62 C.E. To a lesser degree it also recounts the career of Caratacus whom historian Graham Webster has called "the first great British Commander."

Opening in 32 C.E., the earliest Roman legions under Caesar have departed, leaving Britain under the hereditary rule of loosely related tribes, bound by religion and a shared cultural history, past enmities and friendships, linked by trade and dominated politically if not in fact by Cunobelin, known as the Sun Hound, from a dun in the southeast that will eventually become present-day Colchester. Son of the military leader who first opposed the legions of Caesar, he has since united two of the southern tribes and grown wealthy and powerful through trade with Rome. Astute political marriages have given him three sons and extended his influence, though he has violently expelled the dreamers of Mona in order to consolidate his power. But Cunobelin grows old and his three sons are at visible odds, and there is growing fear throughout the tribes that at least one of his heirs may turn to Rome in the struggle to come. Dire portents have been glimpsed by the dreamers and many fear a return of the legions and the ultimate destruction of their culture.

Into this premise, part historical knowledge, part imaginative fiction, the author brings her narrative of Breaca, future leader of the Eceni and later to be hailed on the battlefield as Boudica or "She Who Brings Victory." Parallel to her account, Ms Scott also weaves the story of Bán, Breaca's half-brother, who will become tragically separated from his sister and family, to eventually find himself among his people's foes. The end result is a work richly resonant in both heroic drama and tragedy, and in which temptations towards romanticism are kept tightly controlled.

Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle exhibits a great degree of scholarship on the part of the author, as well as an ability to deftly integrate this knowledge into a narrative that displays considerable imagination and skill. Her characterizations are complex and engaging, and her conjuring of late Iron Age Britain and the tribal culture of the period is vivid and wonderfully wrought, evolving in the reader's mind with a subtlety and clarity that thoroughly captures the fictional as well as historical realm the author is attempting to create. Though presented as historical fiction, the use of dreams and pagan spirituality adds an element that any reader of fantasy will readily identify with, yet without the more overt trappings typical of the genre, thus, intentionally or not, successfully bridging the gulf between fantasy and mainstream and likely to gain a large audience among both. Compelling as fiction as well as "historical" reenactment, this novel promises to do for Iron Age Britain what Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy did for the period of Arthur: bring both legend and history to life. Easily one of the best and most enjoyable novels I've read so far this year, and one whose sequels I will be expectantly looking forward to.

Copyright © 2003 William Thompson

William Thompson is a regular contributor to SF Site and Interzone magazine. His reviews have also appeared in Revolution Science Fiction and Locus Online. In addition to his own writing, he possesses an MLS degree in Special Collections, and serves as an advisor to the Lilly Library for their collection of fantasy and science fiction. He is currently working with scifi/fantasy bibliographer Hal Hall, at the Cushing Collection at Texas A&M on the Moorcock manuscripts, and is a contributor to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Themes in Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Gary Westfahl.

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