About A Year of Ravens: A Novel of Boudica’s Rebellion
A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.
A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.
An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.
A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.
A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.
An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.
A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.
A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?
I’m not surprised this anthology is anything less than excellent. The seven authors featured are all outstanding writers, their collective talent unfolds in this exceptional collection.
Boudica’s rebellion is bloody and vicious lending merit to its historical facts matched with fiction. Queen Boudica is one fierce warrior heroine set to conquer the Romans sans romanticism. Stellar research shown as seven individual stories tightly knit together flawlessly. This collection is not for the faint of heart, the carnage and violence is all too real.
Each authors unique and distinct writing style as well as their keen interpretations through varying points of view join together wonderfully. Characters overlapping, new characters, characters reappearing whatever the scenario, it works quite well. Each story is distinguishable, however there is absolutely no awkwardness, truly beautiful, every contribution highlighting the next.
I suggest you read each story in order, otherwise much will be lost. I was absorbed in every tale, actually I was disappointed when they ended, elaboration could have continued. The prologue is halting all the way through to the magnificent ending. An anthology not to be missed, impressive undertaking. Rarely do I run across a collection where every story is amazing, usually one or two standout, only adding to the fact this should not be missing from your bookshelf.
My name means brave.
However, I was anything but, and I knew it.
“You have everything to fear of this world, Daughters,” my mother said as we hunched by the river, miles from the battlefield, our lathered horses greedily drinking up the offered water. The waning light of the setting sun surrounded us, and the cold was bitter. Tall grasses stirred in the breeze, batting wearily at my shoulders while only the occasional glimmer of light broke the sullen darkness of the waters, rippling when Mother dipped her hands into the depths. She cupped her hands, pulling the icy liquid to wash the blood from her face.
I never thought victory was possible. All through the thirteen years since my birth, our people had struggled against Roman edicts. No swords. No way to protect ourselves but to rely on the Romans. Thank the gods our hunters were good with arrows and slingshots. And thank the gods as well for mother’s insight, that she continued with our tribe’s secret training and hoarding of weapons—had she not, we might have perished a year ago. No, I never thought victory possible. But I know our defeat for a certainty now.
Our people had been slaughtered. And Mother was injured, cut deep in a place I’d seen kill warriors slowly. A wound I’d tended on many in the last year, in the healing tents where I’d honed my skills.
“What have I to fear?” My sister, Sorcha, said, her voice haughty as it often was when she was scared. She tugged her lean-muscled shoulders back, oblivious to the muck that still marred her skin from battle, now covered in a crust of dirt and sweat from our frenzied ride away from the field. Lost now. Everything and everyone lost. The Iceni, all shadows of the past . . . except for us. “We will hide in the mists. Raise a new army. We will come back at the Romans harder than before. We will make them live in fear.”
Mother looked at Sorcha as if wanting to believe her, but when she turned to me, her expression was guarded. “Yes. Perhaps you’re right. We need to keep running.”
We had been running since the battle’s end yesterday, only stopping briefly to rest as night fell and continuing on as a blood-red dawn rose. Now another night was falling, and Sorcha had come up with a plan, a haphazard one. We would seek refuge and assistance in the north with Venutius, the estranged husband of Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes. Since he didn’t support the Romans, he was the most likely ally we’d be able to find at a safe distance from the battlefield. At the very least, he could keep us hidden from Rome until mother was healed.
Mother attempted to mount her borrowed horse, refusing Sorcha’s help at first, though it was painfully obvious she needed the assistance.
“Mother,” I said softly, touching her shoulder.
A shuddering sigh of defeat escaped her. Not another word was exchanged, but she allowed both Sorcha and myself to lift her mighty body up onto the saddle. Sorcha mounted the prized mare of one of our warriors—that warrior was likely dead now. Andecarus was his name, and I heard Sorcha whisper it to the horse.
With a deep sigh, I climbed onto the saddle behind my mother. We had but two horses, and with the both of us sharing this one while Sorcha rode the other, it made the journey slower.
My muscles were sore. My head was heavy. My sister, strong and determined, sat tall before us. As the horse walked, every sway of my body jarred the aches in my bones. It was worse for my mother, who leaned over the withers of our mount. I gripped the reins around her middle when the leather slipped from her fingers. I had insisted on riding behind Mother; told her that as a brave fighter, I would take up the rear guard—but it wasn’t bravery. I was too afraid to be in the front with Sorcha. Too afraid that Sorcha would sense my fear that we had reached the end and call me a coward for thinking it.
Sorcha . . . My older sister was the most capable girl I’d ever met. Even before we’d both grown breasts, she was always the leader. Like Mother.
I’d hoped that I would become a warrior, too, since my father was one, and I looked like him. But I could barely cut a hunk of venison, let alone cut an enemy with a sword. My only skill seemed to be for the healing arts—at best, I’d make a budding priestess. Sorcha, now—she was a master with a blade.
A Year of Ravens Interview with Unshelfish
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
RUTH: I joined a Creative Writing evening class to try and escape from real life.
STEPHANIE: I’ve been telling stories since I was a small child to keep other children entertained. I wrote my first full-length novel at 16. It will never be published, though!
ELIZA: My goodness, no! I remember being really little and always drawing stories of princesses, and then writing stories once I knew how. My 2nd grade teacher told my mother I would be a writer some day, and by 3rd grade my first story was published.
KATE: Don’t really know, except I’ve always been doing it. I finished my first book when I was 10 – 121 pages of pure, goddamned awful.
VICKY: I had a professor in college pull me aside and suggest it. It had never occurred to me before then!
SIMON: I wrote short stories many times as a teenager and in my early 20s. It seemed a natural progression to attempt a full length novel, though it took a few years to get to it.
RUSSELL: Absolutely. I’d always loved David Gemmell’s work, but then I read a book called “The Light Bearer” by Donna Gillsespie and it so inspired me to write that… I actually did it.
Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest?
RUTH: LJ Trafford and Annelise Freisenbruch both made great starts with “Palatine” and “Blood in the Tiber”. I’m also finding writers everyone else has known for ages – like Peter May and Matt Haig.
STEPHANIE: I’m not sure how new they are, but I’ve recently been reading Alison Pitaki, Renee Rosen, and Libbie Hawker!
ELIZA: I am really enjoying Anne O’Brien’s new book, The Forbidden Queen, and up next on my list to read is Sophie Perinot’s Medici’s Daughter (she was on our team for the last publication!)
KATE: Fiona Buckley for historical mysteries, CJ Sansom and Alison Morton for alternate history.
VICKY: Too many to list for me!
SIMON: Far too many to mention. Recently, two of these excellent co-authors particularly piqued my interest. They might not be ‘new authors’ but they were new to me.
RUSSELL: Like Simon, I read a lot so there are too many to list.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
RUTH: I’m an incurable tweaker, so I’d change lots. Then change it back the next day. The only way to stop me is to take the text away.
STEPHANIE: I would have given myself more than four days to write it!
ELIZA: There is one thing I REALLY wanted to happen, but that is a secret, because it’s a spoiler… So I’ll tell you after you read it *winks*
KATE: Change history so Boudica wins and my big battle gets a happier ending.
VICKY: I’m with Ruth–I can barely read my prior works without being overcome with a desire to tweak and change.
SIMON: To be honest, no. It went through plenty of edits, so it’s had any changes needed.
RUSSELL: I’d like to write faster – that’s the one thing I’d change about every book!
What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing it to life?
RUTH: Writing a story with no murder mystery in it felt like I’d wandered into a new territory with no map. I wondered about putting one in, but I thought it would look a bit irrelevant given the body count that would be coming up later.
STEPHANIE: The most challenging thing for my part in A YEAR OF RAVENS is that I had to use flashbacks to cover about thirty years of history in a single self-contained short story!
ELIZA: The biggest challenge was creating a story that could be seen as real given the little bit of resources I had to tell these two girls’ tales… and of course, the parts I did know, I hated, they made me sad and tearful and I resorted to drinking copious amounts of wine.
KATE: Since I had the final battle, I had to go round asking my fellow authors “How do you want your hero to die? Would evisceration be ok, or would you prefer beheading?”
VICKY: Trying to portray the beliefs of a lost faith (Druidism) without shying away from the brutality of the era.
SIMON: For a staunchly Rome-o-centric author, taking on the job of writing an Iceni warrior fighting the Romans was pretty challenging!
RUSSELL: I loved writing “The Tribune.” The most daunting part was working with these guys repeating the mantra “don’t be crap, don’t be crap, don’t be crap” over and over again. Not sure I succeeded in that, but it was pretty frightening when you’re writing with your heroes.
What is the biggest thing that people THINK they know about your subject/genre, that isn’t so?
RUTH: That the way we interpret archaeological evidence is “the truth”. I’ve now been around long enough to see truths come and go, and some of them turned out to be pretty short-lived.
STEPHANIE: People think historical fiction is just writing down “what happened” and “how people felt about it.” The truth is that you have to hammer the facts into the shape of a story.
ELIZA: Hmmm I think a lot of people believed that Boudica was Scottish because she was a “Celt”.
KATE: That people in ancient times apparently didn’t curse. Yes, the F word really did exist in ancient Rome. I can translate it into Latin, conjugate it for you, and point out the walls in Pompeii where it has been graffiti’d for posterity, if you would like.
VICKY: People are often shocked to discover there was no abolition movement in the ancient world. Slavery was so common, no one questioned the morality of it. No one! Early Christian’s also had slaves. The concept of slavery as a moral/ethical issue didn’t arise until the 15th/16th centuries.
SIMON: Julius Caesar wasn’t an emperor. There is no such thing as ‘A colosseum’, only ‘THE colosseum’. The Roman empire wasn’t exactly the same for its entire existence and changed immeasurably over two thousand years. How long have you got? Heh heh heh.
RUSSELL: Most gladiator fights weren’t death matches and many gladiators were not slaves.
What were your goals and intentions in this book, and how well do you feel you achieved them?
RUTH: I wanted to show how the rebellion – no, actually, what really I wanted more than anything was not to let all the other writers down.
STEPHANIE: My goal was to introduce many of the characters in the other stories in the book and create enough of an opening hook that readers would keep reading beyond my story; I must have achieved it because everyone keeps telling me how great the other stories are. (And they’re right!)
ELIZA: My goal was to tell the story of two girls whose only truth given to us is of their brutal rapes. They are more than the vile men who abused them. They are people, and they had names and feelings, and loves and losses.
KATE: Normally I make my readers laugh. This time around I wanted to make them cry–not just cry, but weep big wrenching sobs. I’m told I succeeded, so their misery is my success!
VICKY: Not to let down my fellow writers, for sure; but also to show the mental gymnastics that individuals go through (on both sides) to rationalize horrendous violence.
SIMON: My goal was to try and produce a balanced aspect to the conflict, coming down on neither side particularly. Hopefully I achieved it?
RUSSELL: Not to be crap. And to try show a “great man” when he was a “young knobhead.”
Which of your characters is your favorite and why?
RUTH: I was very fond of Ria but let’s be honest, Si’s Andecarus was a real star.
STEPHANIE: In spite of the fact that it was Cartimandua, the ancient queen of the Britons, who insisted on telling this story, I have a real soft spot for Decianus, the Roman procurator who was, in our book, exactly the wrong man for the job.
ELIZA: I can’t pick. I loved them both. I will say, Sorcha was my fav throughout the story, whereas Keena was a bit of a whiny brat in some parts…
KATE: Si’s Andecarus was undoubtedly the nicest guy in the whole book, which is why we all ended up borrowing him. My hero was a jerk. I loved him, but he was a jerk.
VICKY: I had a soft spot for poor Felix.
SIMON: Has to be Decianus for me. He’s such an interesting fellow to write and a shame I had so little space to give him.
RUSSELL: Valeria … she was ace.
If you could meet any of your own characters, who would it be?
RUTH: Any of them except Verico, especially in a dark alley.
STEPHANIE: In this book? It would definitely be Cartimandua because I think she’s the character least likely to kill me. The rest of them are extremely dangerous people.
ELIZA: SORCHA! And I’d beg her not to kick my arse.
KATE: Boudica herself! So I could tell her “Really, this frontal assault thing . . . you’ll want to reconsider that for the last fight . . .”
VICKY: The High Priest of all the Druids!
SIMON: Again it would have to be Decianus. He’s the only truly peaceful person in the book, I think, and despite what I write, I’m a bit of a hippy really…
RUSSELL: Paulinus. I would love to know what made him tick. He became so real to me when I was writing my bit of the book.
What question would you most like to have someone ask you?
RUTH: All of the ones below, but also, “Can I turn out all the book-cases and furniture and junk in your work-room to make sure that spider is really gone?”
STEPHANIE: Would you like to discuss your book with our book club via Skype?
ELIZA: Can we make your book into a movie? If you’re asking, the answer is YES, PLEASE!
KATE: Give me your buy links so I can buy copies of your books for all my relatives this Christmas.
VICKY: Can I steal everyone’s answers on this? Because it would be, “All the above (and below).”
SIMON: Would you sign a copy?
RUSSELL: Hi, is that Russ? This is Peter Jackson and I wanted to ask if you and your co-authors would be interested in turning “A Year of Ravens” into a movie trilogy?
A Year of Ravens Authors
Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney, & Russell Whitfield
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