Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine

Daughters of Fire is historical time-slip fiction switching between the present day and the first century CE Britannia, a mix of historical fiction, fantasy and romance.  It was with relief that I finished reading it – relief, because although the story of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes tribe is fascinating and that of historian Viv Lloyd Rees is initially interesting, the book is too long, and too wordy.

Daughters of Fire intermingles two stories, that of  Viv and Cartimandua. Viv has published a book on Cartimandua, a book using alternative as well as traditional historical sources – ie using legends, her dreams and visions as well as the writings of Roman historians. She has ‘borrowed’ an ancient cursed brooch from her boss, Professor Hugh Graham, who has criticised her book as fantasy. The rest of her story is their obsession with and struggle to gain control of the brooch.

Cartimandua, back in the first century is beset by enemies on all sides, Romans and  the leaders of the other tribes. It all goes from bad to worse when she betrays Caradoc (Caractacus), the leader of the Catuvellauni tribe, who led the tribes in resisting the Roman invaders and hands him over in chains to the Romans.

For me the essential story was good, but lost impact as it dragged on, drowned in words and by the repetition of the struggles between the characters. Because of this the ending was drained of any impact and suspense for me. I like time-slip stories, the supernatural and the paranormal, so that wasn’t a problem. And I liked the sections explaining Celtic beliefs – their belief in the immortality of the soul, in reincarnations and transmigration of the soul. As one of the characters said:

Remember the world he lived in was an animistic, rainbow world of links and connections which included vast echelons of spirits and gods and ancestors, people dead and people yet to be born, all of whom could be summoned to his aid. (page 258)

In the Author’s Note, Barbara Erskine emphasises that this is above all fiction:

In the absence of written information one has to make do with imagination, dreams and deductive techniques of a dubious nature! … (page 562)

and regarding Cartimandua:

We don’t know her tribe, or if she had children, and although far more is known about her life than that of he much more famous contemporary, Boudicca, she is still an enigma.

So, for all that is historically known about Cartimandua I refer the reader to the Roman historians.

For the truth of her life we must consult archaeology and the oracles.

The rest is silence. (page 562)

A couple of years ago I read Barbara Erskine’s book, The Warrior Princess, another time-slip book, which I also thought was too drawn out and would have been better if the plotting had been tighter. I own one more of her books, which I’ve yet to read – Sands of Time, a collection of short stories, described on the back cover as ‘spine-tingling‘ tales all with ‘a touch of the unexpected … suspense, romance, passion, unexpected echoes of the past.’ I hope, because these are short stories, they will be more succinct than the two books I have read.

This book qualifies for several challenges – Mount To-Be-Read 2013 (it’s been on my shelves for about 4 years), The Historical Fiction Reading ChallengeWhat’s in a Name 6 (in the Fire category) and Once Upon a Time VII (Fantasy).

The Warrior’s Princess by Barbara Erskine: Book Review

Recently, I wanted to read something other than crime fiction, but chose The Warrior’s Princess by Barbara Erskine, which just happens to include a couple of rapes, kidnappings and a murder. However, it’s really a time-slip book, switching between the present day and the first century AD in Rome and Britannia, a mix of historical fiction, fantasy and romance.

It starts dramatically as teacher, Jess is raped in her flat. She has only vague memories of her attacker. She then resigns from teaching and flees to her sister’s house in Wales, which is haunted by a young girl. She becomes interested in discovering more about the girl and her sister, Eigon, the daughters of Caratacus, the king of the Catuvellauni tribe who led the British in their fight against the Romans. He was captured and taken as a prisoner to Rome, together wife his wife and daughter. Actually she becomes obsessed to the point of absurdity, regardless of her own safety, so much so that the past and the present merge in her mind. She travels to Rome to continue her research into Eigon’s life.

There was much I enjoyed in this book – the suspense as Jess gradually begins to remember who her attacker was and the danger she finds herself in both in Wales and Rome were initially gripping.  I also liked the historical references, such as the persecutions of the Christians by Nero, and the Roman and Welsh locations. I remember walking around the Roman Forum imagining what it must have been like so I could identify the picture of ancient Rome that Jess is able to construct.

However, I thought it was too drawn out, and would have been better if the plotting had been tighter. I was also sceptical about the way Jess and Eigon “communicated” through Jess’s dreams and trances. It seemed an artificial way of telling the story. The mix of supernatural and historical however, was quite intriguing even though I had to suspend my disbelief a little too much for my liking and there were too many coincidences and contrivances. Although I thought the ending was rushed and kaleidascoped in comparison with the rest of the book, it did hold my attention to the end.