BOUDICCA
Joann Smith


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LTDBooks, Apr 2004
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood

Historical Fiction, Roman Britain

The tale of Boudicca is one of the most exciting in first century Britain. The wild Celtic queen who raised her tribes up in rebellion against their Roman conquerors, leading the charge into battle in her own chariot, has left an indelible impression upon centuries of bards and storytellers.

In BOUDICCA, author Joann Smith does not focus on the legend. She gives us back the woman. Smith’s BOUDICCA is as personal as an author can get. We see straitly through Boudicca’s eyes, and live through her thoughts. From the first page, the first-person, present-tense prose involves us deeply:

"Tallas." Be alive, Tallas. Please be alive.
His cheek against the ground.
No, I mustn’t think that.
A short sword through his chest. His hands pressing the wound. And blood.
No. Why does my mind taunt me with such images?

Tallas is Boudicca’s lover, defeated in a tiny, nameless rebellion against Rome in 48 A.D. As daughter of Melcut, Rome’s tame client-king of the Iceni, Boudicca is forced to watch Tallas’ execution. Because her loyal father is connected, through Boudicca, with Tallas, he is replaced on the throne by someone the Romans trust more, and Boudicca must marry the new king. This feels like final defeat to Boudicca, and for many years she subsides into a suppressed alienation she thinks is contentment.

Suddenly a new governor from Rome decides he wants to make his reputation, with a little "conquering" of the already docile tribes of Britain. The slaughter of the center of Britain’s priesthood is followed by what seems to be deliberately incendiary actions against the Iceni tribe of Boudicca, whose king and husband is dying.

Any man who values honor would rise up against the rape of his daughters. It is less to be expected that a lone, bereaved woman would. But Smith’s searing description as Boudicca is forced to watch one rape, and her inability to heal the other, permanently maimed, daughter, puts us wholeheartedly in the fight with Boudicca while she realizes the time her father foretold has come. The rebellion takes shape like fate around her.

We seem to be sharing Boudicca’s mind, constricted and distorted until she has no perspective but that of her own agony. The litany of her injuries changes in tone: first as she experiences them, then as she cannot escape from them, and finally as she uses them to flog herself forward along the path she has chosen. Joann Smith has performed miracles of empathy, putting herself in Boudicca’s place and pulling us along with her, until every action, large and small, resonates within our own being.

I said at the beginning that the rebellion of Boudicca has attracted storytellers for a very long time. Four years ago I reviewed David Wishart’s THE HORSE COIN, about Boudicca’s rebellion from the viewpoint of a Roman officer. Apart from the fact that it shows the other side of the same war, the major difference between the two books is that THE HORSE COIN has a message, an exploration of tolerance versus intolerance. BOUDICCA doesn’t think like that. Boudicca and BOUDICCA both have the kind of one-track mind that it takes to go into a war against overwhelming odds without considering the consequences.

April 2004 Review

[Note: LTDBooks has gone out of business. If the author will contact me at Calderwood Books, I would like to talk about publishing BOUDICCA.]

 

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