No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

#82: Song for a Dark Queen -- Rosemary Sutcliff

A Sutcliff novel that I hadn't read before: this tells the story of the Iceni rebellion in AD60, during which Colchester and London were burnt to the ground and the inhabitants slaughtered by a British coalition in revenge for the Roman refusal to acknowledge Boudicca's queenship after her husband's death, and for the rape and beating of her daughters. Tens of thousands died on both sides: the British army, a hundred thousand strong, was finally defeated by a vastly outnumbered but tactically superior Roman force.

Cheerful stuff. Sutcliff doesn't gloss over the sheer nastiness of it all -- rape, torture, genocide, slow death from sword-wounds -- though, this being a children's book, she doesn't go into explicit detail.

The novel's narrated by Cadwan, the Queen's Harper, and there's a sense of tension throughout the book: as with any first-person narrative which recounts dire events, the reader wants to know the vantage point from which the tale's told. All the way through, there's a thin fragile thread of hope. Right up until the very end: and I knew how it would end, in terms of historical fact.

Throughout the book Sutcliff intersperses excerpts from a young tribune's letters home: the tribune, aide to British Governor Suetonius Paulinus, has a soldier's hard-nosed mind, but a human side as well. His name is Gnaius Julius Agricola, and he'll be governor of Britain himself later. In the end, he doesn't send his letters to his mother: they're 'too bloodstained'.

Oh, it's a melancholy book, but full of period detail, though not as steeped in the strange imagined world of the Celts as some of Sutcliff's other novels.

And now I need something light, dammit ...

reposted here from LJ in order to keep all my reviews in one place

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