A Year of Ravens: Book review

A Year of Ravens is the second book written by the H team, a fantastic gathering of historical fiction talent. It is the first I have read, but I will definitely be going back to their first group outing, A Day of Fire. The H team consist of seven historical authors, many or all of whom will be familiar to fans of Ancient Roman fiction. Kate Quinn, Vicky Shecter, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray are all survivors from the first book, while Ben Kane, who wrote the foreword for Ravens, and Sophine Perinot, are substituted by the equally awesome Ruth Downie, Russell Whitfield and  SJA Turney.

The concept is simple, but I can’t imagine how hard it is to achieve – seven interconnected stories, with recurring characters, that tell the tale of Boudica’s rebellion from the funeral of her husband, through her flogging and the rape of her daughters, to the insurrection, the sack of Londinium and the eventual (spoiler alert) defeat of her army at the hands of Paulinus.

Stephanie Dray sets the scene by telling of the funeral of Prasutagus, husband of Boudica, through the eyes of Queen Cartimandua, an ally of Rome, as well as Decianus, the procurator, whose actions provoked the whole bloody mess. This part of the story ends with a powerful description of Boudica’s flogging. Ruth Downie then takes up the reins with, telling the tale of the princess’s half sister, a slave called Ria, who witnesses the rape of the princesses. Russell Whitfield describes a young Agricola, a man who became famous later for his further conquests in Britain, immortalised by his son-in-law Tacitus. Agricola travels to the Isle of Mona with Paulinus to wipe out the stronghold of the druids, meaning that the bulk of the legions are in North Wales when the rebellion sweeps down onto the major south-eastern settlements from what is now East Anglia. Whitfield’s description of the battle of Mona is gritty and violent, ending with the news of the destruction of Camulodonum.

Vicky Alvear Shecter tells the story of Yorath, the only druid to survive the massacre at Mona. The young Yorath struggles to deal with his loss, but the gods speak to him and he travels to Boudica, giving her rebellion religious legitimacy. Shecter’s story is moving and shocking.

Next up is SJA Turney, who narrates the destruction of Londinium from the point of view of Andecarus, a young Iceni nobleman who had been raised as a hostage in the household of Decianus. Andecarus knows the Romans, and though his loyalty ultimately is to the Iceni, he knows how the legions fight, and knows the doom they are heading towards. Sadly for his tribe, he plays the role of Cassandra when he counsels against a pitched battle. Andecarus witnesses the destruction of London, and Turney’s description is bloody and distressing.

It falls to Kate Quinn to relate the big battle, which surprised me given battle scenes are Turney’s forte. However, she described it brilliantly, and the immediate aftermath was profoundly moving.

E. Knight had arguably the hardest job, being tasked with the events after the battle, and I wondered how she would prevent it feeling anti-climactic. I needn’t have worried. The final days of Boudicca were engrossing.

A Year of Ravens is an amazing piece of work, with seven writers using their distinctive voices, but managing to write a cohesive whole. I am very impressed with the result. The main downside is that with several authors I haven’t read before, my TBR list has just become even longer!

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