Barbara Erskine has been writing many years and I would describe her as a historical author with paranormal/ghostly airs. Her first book was called "Lady of Hay" and was extremely well received. She followed this with "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" and "Daughters of Fire". She has also written three books of short stories. ("Encounters", "Distant Voices" and "Sands of Time") She is one of my Mums absolute favourite authors and a couple of years ago she gave me "Whispers in the sand" to read, knowing that I was interested in Egyptians. It is one of the best books I have read and naturally I was hooked. Unfortunately for me, my Mum had given away many of the books, quite to my annoyance. So when we found out there was a new book released we rushed out to buy. We got a great deal in Waterstones, with their usual £5 off hardback books, but even better was it was a signed copy :D
Mum read it first and managed to thoroughly irritate me. You see "The Warrior's Princess" is set during the reign of Emperor Claudius and Emperor Nero. These are two men I am rather familiar with as I am studying Classical Civilisation at University. Naturally this led to many, many questions from my Mum as she worked her way through the book. After the first hundred times of me saying "STOP ASKING, I don't want to know what happens in the book" she got the hint, sort of. She then started researching things on the internet and telling me what she had found out and how it related to the story, lol. Of course it also peaked my interest in the book so I was looking forward to getting into it when she was done.
If you have never read a Barbara Erskine book before, they all have a similar theme. She was trained as a historian and her books use a lot of history in them and bring it to life. She often takes obscure historical characters, so that she can use her own artistic licence to create their story. A modern character is used to ground the story and the character from history becomes linked to them via a common need/event. This link affects the life of the modern character and the reader follows their journey to come to terms with what happened to the person in the past. Many of them are based around Scotland and Wales; this includes "The Warriors Princess".
Jess is a teacher working in London. It's the start of the summer holidays, she had promised a student to attend their leaving disco and reluctantly goes through with it. While there she gets rather drunk. The next morning she wakes up to discover she has been raped, but she can't remember a thing. She has her suspicions as to who has done it but doesn't want to involve the police as she had helped a student who had been raped and could never go through everything involved. So instead she quits her job and runs to her sister's house, Ty Bran, which is in the middle of the Welsh hills. Her sister, Steph, has gone to Rome and so Jess ends up alone in the house. It is at Ty Bran that Jess starts to dream.
Eigon is the daughter of the celebrated Briton warrior King, Caradoc. She lives with her mother, Cerys, little sister, Gwladys, and little brother, Togo. She has lived a happy life in the Welsh hills. But then the Romans came...
News reaches them that the last battle has been lost, Caradoc has fled and now they must too. They run into the woods until they can go no further, and settle into an old, rundown hut for the night. When they wake in the morning, soldiers are outside, the children escape into the woods but their mother is caught. After a while, Eigon returns to see what is happening. The soldiers have killed their slaves and are raping her mother. She is spotted by the soldiers and one of them rapes the small child, and then leaves them for dead. But then they are found by more soldiers, and they are taken back to the Roman camp. Claudius wants prisoners to parade in his triumph and the wife and daughter of the King Caradoc will be a real sight for the Romans to watch traipse along the Forum. No matter how hard the soldiers search, Eigon's little sister and brother can not be found. Claudius (a rather eccentric emperor) decided not to execute the family as Caradoc (Caratacus to the Romans) made an eloquent speech that inspired him to spare them and let them live out their days in Rome.
Jess begins to hear voices in the wood. It turns out she is in the exact place that the horrific event took place. Eigon has reached through time to tell her story to Jess, who has suffered the same horrors. Jess gets obsessed with Eigon and her story is mirrored in Jess' story. The man that had raped Eigon has scarily managed to connect to the man who raped Jess and the four become entangled in a dangerous and frightening web that crosses nearly 2000 years. Jess follows Eigon to Rome to see where she lived and research her past where Jess' friends become concerned with her obsession. But Jess can't stop until she knows Eigon's whole story, no matter what danger it places herself in.
The story continues and includes insights into early Christian Rome under Nero and the persecutions they faced. (Although I would like to point out that Christians were not thrown to the lions as often as people believe, it was a rare occurrence) St. Paul and St. Peter feature who were known to be in Rome during Nero's reign (13 October, 54 - 9 June, AD 68). There are also Druids and several clairvoyants who become involved in the story.
The following passage is from Tacitus (Roman historian - c. A.D. 56 - c. 120) who retells what happened to Caractacus when he arrived in Rome:
The people were summoned as to a grand spectacle; the prætorian cohorts were drawn up under arms in the plain in front of their camp; then came a procession of the royal vassals, and the ornaments and neck-chains and the spoils which the king had won in wars with other tribes, were displayed. Next were to be seen his brothers, his wife and daughter; last of all, Caractacus himself. All the rest stooped in their fear to abject supplication; not so the king, who neither by humble look nor speech sought compassion. When he was set before the emperor's tribunal, he spoke as follows: "Had my moderation in prosperity been equal to my noble birth and fortune, I should have entered this city as your friend rather than as your captive; and you would not have disdained to receive, under a treaty of peace, a king descended from illustrious ancestors and ruling many nations. My present lot is as glorious to you as it is degrading to myself. I had men and horses, arms and wealth. What wonder if I parted with them reluctantly? If you Romans choose to lord it over the world, does it follow that the world is to accept slavery? Were I to have been at once delivered up as a prisoner, neither my fall nor your triumph would have become famous. My punishment would be followed by oblivion, whereas, if you save my life, I shall be an everlasting memorial of your clemency.
Little else is known about Caractacus after this and there is virtually nothing known about his family. It's truly fascinating to read Barbara Erskine's take on what might have happened to them. Especially when you read the authors note at the back and realise how everything she has written links together with historical evidence and it is entirely possible that she has guessed more or less correctly what happened to them. If so, unfortunately we may never discover evidence to prove or disprove it, we could be hearing her story for the very first time thanks to Barbara Erskine.
Her characters are believable and she manages to interweave their stories so succinctly. Even if they do not appear in the narrative for long we still get a sense of who they are. My favourite characters happen to be the two love interests, Julius and Rhodri Price. Both are the gallant protector types ;) very appealing, but they also have their own stories and backgrounds, especially Julius. Carmella, a modern tarot reader is also a delightful character to read and I think I could have easily have read an entire book with her as the central character.
This is a long book. 36 chapters + prologue +authors note covers 548 pages. And although I really did enjoy the story I often felt that it was too long and I was frustrated that I wasn't able to read it quicker and know what happens at the end. Some of it can seem a bit repetitive as Jess or Eigon get close to danger and escape again and again. I guess the aim was to build tension but I'm not sure it is needed, especially as it loses its effect after a while. I think there are parts when Eigon is in Rome that really could have been cut down to make it more succinct. The parts that occur in modern Rome are very well written and made me yearn to return, it truly is a magnificent story.
I was a little horrified when I began to read the book and within the first few pages a small child had been raped. So in case you're worried this is the worst it gets, there is violence, but nothing so taboo. There are ghosts, but for someone who is scared easily, I didn't find them scary at all.
The only other fault that people may find is the style it is written in. If you hate following two stories at the same time, and being forced to switch back and forth just as they get interesting, then you should avoid Barbara Erskine altogether. It can be slightly frustrating but I think it's really what makes the book work as it allows you to see the parallels and it's all about the journey Jess makes as she discovers bit by bit what happens. Which is how the reader discovers it too.
Once you have finished the story, I suggest you re-read the prologue as it makes sense then and you may have forgotten it by the time you get to the end. I also do strongly recommend reading the authors note too, its fascinating. And if you enjoyed this one then "Kingdom of Shadows" is similar but in my opinion a better read.
For more information on Barbara Erskine go to www.barbara-erskine.com where you can also discover more about the historical research she conducted to write the book.
Publisher: Harper Collins
Hardback price: £18.99 ISBN: 97-0-00-717428-7
New Paperback released February 19th 2009 - £5.49 on Amazon - go and grab yourself a great read! ISBN: 978-0007278442
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