Barbara Erskine is one of my favourite authors. The first book of hers that I read was "whispers in the sand" which was a very scary and exciting read revolving around ancient Egypt. She began writing many years ago and has written a total of 12 books. The most recent book she has written is called "The Warrior's Princess" and it deals with the same time period as "Daughters of Fire".
Barbara Erskine has a very distinct style, mixing historical fiction with the paranormal. They all have the same basic premise, a modern character grounds the story in the present but they become linked in some way to a character from the past. The reader follows the modern character trying to cope with their link to the past as well as following the historical characters story. Many of the stories are based in Wales or Scotland as she studied Scottish history at Edinburgh University and she lives on the Welsh border. Her most famous book "Lady of the Hay" has sold over one million copies and she has been in the Times top 10 on a couple of occasions.
Viv Lloyd Rees is a noted scholar and a brand new author teaching at the University of Edinburgh. She has written a book on Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes during Roman Britain which has caused a massive stir within the historical community. The problem is that she seems to have discovered some new facts about the Queen that others have previously been ignorant of, and this has displeased her head of department, Hugh Graham, more than anyone else. Has she just been guessing and trying to pass them off as fact or has she had a privileged insight into the world of Cartimandua than no others have ever had before? Hugh Graham is determined to discredit Viv and it is made worse by the fact Viv is totally in love with the recent widower. The book is so successful that she is asked to begin to write a play about Cartimandua with the actress Pat Hebden. The problems begin when the characters touch a brooch that is believed to have belonged to the ancient Queen, a brooch which has been cursed for centuries and will awaken old ghosts with unsettled business.
Characters and Writing Style
The book flies back and forth between the past and the present. As a classics student I found the historical fiction the most interesting parts. Obviously Barbara Erskine is taking liberties with the history but she has an excellent ability to make the past come alive. The sources for Cartimandua's life are few and far between. Romans were not interested in recording the day to day life of a vassal queen in Britain. What we do know is that she was seen as a traitor by her own people and by Britain. Instead of attempting to route the Romans when the emperor Claudius invaded she made an alliance with him, keeping her people safe and growing rich on Roman gold. The characters of the past are far more interesting and enigmatic than the modern characters. Cartimandua is an extremely likable and sympathetic character, the reader feels for her pain and revels in her victories. The main protagonist does not actually get all that much attention considering the trouble she causes, Medb of the White Hands is Cartimandua's arch enemy and her story is told in the first half of the book. Unfortunately I do not feel that the character has enough of a reason to be as vindictive as she is, we never really discover why she began her campaign of hatred and jealousy against Cartimandua. Venutios is a hard character for readers to get to grips with, to begin with readers are meant to hate him but as the book progresses the readers are meant to soften towards him but his actions make it very difficult for the reader to do so, I was left wondering what Barbara Erskine's intentions were with this character and how she thought the reader would react to him. The supporting characters in the past are all very well put together, none of them seem 2-D and it is very easy to identify with all of their motivations and beliefs. There are no characters added in just for the sake of it and they all have their role in the plot.
The Modern characters are a bit of a different story. I did not particularly enjoy the modern aspect as I found it was all a little contrived. I thought Viv Lloyd Rees made a good heroine but the other characters had very little of interest to them. Furthermore the only link they really had to the past was the fact that they had touched the Cartimandua brooch. Hugh and Viv did have a slightly similar relationship to that of Cartimandua and Venutios but that was about it. The book was a bit like a book of two halves. In the first half there are several characters that do not appear in the second half of the book and vice versa. I thought this broke up the book unsatisfactorily and the supporting characters in the first half had no depth of character or a purpose in the plot as they were completely discarded for the second half of the book. Similarly the second half the book has unnecessary characters and the ending of the novel seems rushed. The climatic scene was a major let down and was on the point of being laughable. It undermined the entire story and discredited the modern characters even further. The solution to their problem was all rather simple and I just wondered why it was not done before if it was that easy.
I found that there was too much switching back to the present, Erskine could easily have just stuck to the past for a bit longer and then switched back to the present, this would have cut out a lot of repetition of the modern aspect and shortened it as it did get a bit long winded at times. Daughters of fire is not a scary book like some of Barbara Erskine's other books are, the ending has elements of horror in it but it is more psychological than scary. However the situation the characters were in must have been scary and so perhaps this is a failing of Erskine's in that I did not feel scared for them when reading the book but perhaps I was not meant to.
Overall I thought the book was a good read, but not as good as other books by Barbara Erskine. The history was interesting and emotive as always but the modern story was not up to scratch. If you are interested in this time period I would recommend reading "The Warriors Princess" instead, it is much better put together! (see my review on it)
For more information on Barbara Erskine go to www.barbara-erskine.com.
Hardcover: 576 pages, Paperback:480 pages £5.99 from amazon (at the date of 25/06/09)
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
ISBN-10: 0007174268, ISBN-10: 0007174276
Novels by Barbara Erskine:- .
Kingdom of Shadows
Child of the Phoenix
Midnight is a lonely place
House of Echoes
On the Edge of Darkness
Whispers in the sand
Hiding from the Light
Daughters of Fire
Sands of Time