Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: Daughters of Fire by Barbare Erskine

Two thousand years ago, as the Romans invade Britannia, the princess who will become the powerful queen of the great tribe of the Brigantes, watches the enemies of her people come ever closer. Cartimandua's world is, from the start, a maelstrom of love and conflict; revenge and retribution.

In the present day, Edinburgh-based historian, Viv Lloyd Rees, has immersed herself in the legends surrounding the Celtic queen. She has written a book and is working on a dramatisation of the young queen's life with the help of actress, Pat Hebden.

Cartimandua's life takes one unexpected turn after another as tragedy changes the course of her future. But the young queen has formidable enemies - among them Venutios, her childhood sparring partner, and Medb, a woman whose jealousy threatens not only her happiness but her life.

Viv's Head of Department, Hugh Graham, hounds her as she struggles to hide her visions of Cartimandua and her conviction that they are real. Her obsession grows ever more persistent and threatening as she takes possession of an ancient brooch that carries a curse. Both Pat and Hugh are drawn into this dual existence of bitter rivalry and overwhelming love as past envelopes present and the trio find themselves facing the greatest danger of their lives.

My Review

4 Stars

In Barbara Erskine's novel Daughters of Fire, protaganist Viv Lloyd Rees is about to realize a dream with the publication of her scholarly work on Cartimandua, a little known British tribal queen remembered only for betraying Britain to Imperial Rome.  Although her book includes information on Cartimandua never before known, it is generating much advanced buzz mainly for the severe criticism leveled against it by Viv's friend and Department Head, Dr. Hugh Graham.   Hugh, also a Celtic expert, argues that much of the information contained in the book is nothing more than supposition, saying there is no historical evidence to back up many of Viv's claims.   Unbeknownst to Hugh, Viv has formed a "connection" with the Iron Age queen, a connection that revealed much of the information in her book; and which Viv is also using to develop a radio dramatization on the life of Cartimandua.   When Hugh and Viv's behaviours start to alter, followed soon after by that of Viv's dramatization partner, Pat, it becomes apparent that there is much more to Viv's 'connection' with Cartimandua than meets the eye, and that it relates, in some way, to an ancient Celtic broach believed to have once belonged to the Brigantine queen.   Viv, Hugh and Pat soon find themselves completely entangled in events of the past.  While this situation brings to light people, events and motivations that have been lost to history, they also place Viv, Hugh and Pat's very lives in grave danger.   

Daughters of Fire is a richly atmospheric novel, one in which events of the past and present become so intertwined that it is difficult to separate them.  Although a huge fan of time slip novels, I sometimes find that narrative transitions between past and present story lines can be rough and inconsistent.   This is not an issue in Daughters of Fire, as the ongoing shifts between the modern day and historical story lines are well executed.  I also found the continual narrative shifts, which are often suspenseful, helped to move the novel along quickly and kept the book, at over 550 pages, from feeling too long.   While I enjoyed the novel overall, I did have one issue with it - I didn't connect with any of the principal characters.  While it is unusual for me to enjoy a novel when ambivalent towards the main characters, my lack of connection to Viv, Hugh or Pat didn't in any way detract from my fascination with the story itself.   

Daughters of Fire is recommended to fans of historical time slip novels.   In fact, fans of time slip novels who haven't already done so are encouraged to check out novelist Barbara Erskine's works in general. 

Note: This book comes from my own personal collection.