Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott is the first of four books on the life of Boudica of the Eceni tribe, the female Celtic warrior who defended Britain against the invading Roman army beginning in the year 43 C.E.
At the ripe old age of eleven, Breaca, later named Boudica, (“Bringer of Victory”) kills the man who attacked and killed her mother. We follow Breaca as she matures into a heroic warrior who slowly but surely assumes the mantle of leadership in her community.
Manda Scott combines the available research on tribal Britain and the historical figure of Boudica with a creative imagination that is both convincing and compelling. She serves a tale of epic proportions. Scott plunges us into the world of 1st Century Britain with its tribal conflicts and alignments, its Dreamers who predict the future through their dreaming, its animals perceived as emissaries from the gods, and its spirits of the dead who frequently appear to the living to warn them of impending disasters and to guide them forward.
Painted in vivid detail, this is a world simultaneously brutal and sensitive, a world in which battle scenes are littered with bloodied corpses and mangled limbs, a world of horrific torture and desecration of the dead. But it is also a world in which warriors value honor, loyalty, and oaths that bind; in which cultural rules are adhered to and respected even at the cost of personal sacrifice; in which the elderly are honored; and in which the spirit of community and sisterhood is in full display as the women rally around Breaca after the death of her mother and celebrate with her at the onset of her menarche.
Love connections weave their way throughout this tapestry, including illustrations of parental love, sibling love, heterosexual love, and homosexual love. Love of animals is also in full display, including a boy’s love for his hound and his horse.
Manda Scott has packed a great deal into this novel. And perhaps that is its biggest downfall. She has packed too much. The novel is long and unnecessarily drawn out. At times it was difficult to follow the complex technicalities of the battle scenes and to keep track of which tribe was situated where in the battle lines. In addition, transitions from the natural world to the world of the spirit weren’t clearly delineated. This required re-reading whole passages to distinguish the real from the visionary. But these shortcomings diminish in significance when one considers the work as a whole.
Manda Scott has written an exciting novel immersing us in her fictional re-imagining of the life and times of Celtic Britain and the remarkable woman credited with challenging the Roman Empire. This is an extraordinary feat of the imagination that will captivate its readers, especially lovers of historical fiction.