THE FRIDAY BOOK: The recreated world of a warrior queen

Boudica: Dreaming the Hound Manda Scott Bantam, pounds 12.99/pounds 11.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897
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Indy Lifestyle Online
MANDA SCOTT has embarked on an extraordinary venture: re-telling in fiction the story of Boudica, that national heroine known, chiefly from 19th-century statuary, as a chariot-whirling combination of Queen Victoria and Asterix. But Scott has created a completely different image. Her Boudica, or Breaca, is a warrior queen, but a figure taken seriously, around whom myths can plausibly have accrued. She is the daughter of a blacksmith and capable of forging her own weapons, hardened to pain and suffering, yet a visionary as well as a fighter.

The two previous volumes of Scott's sequence showed Boudica and her tribe facing the Roman invasion and raising guerrilla warfare against it, until she was forced to take refuge in Anglesey. Now Britain is firmly under Roman rule and, with her lover Caradoc in exile, she must rouse resistance. She returns to her home territory to find all the marks of an occupying power. The natives may not possess weapons except of the most basic kind, and are driven to bare subsistence. Crucifixion is the penalty for the slightest infringement.

This is the background to Scott's version of the events that most will recollect about Boudica: her flogging, and the rape of her daughters at the behest of the Roman governor. These are truly horrific occurrences (one of the daughters is eight) which would plausibly spark a mass revolt, presumably the subject of the fourth book.

Scott presents a new and convincing explanation of the causes of these humiliations. She has drawn on many sources, Latin and Celtic, but the remarkable thing about her books is that one is never conscious of deliberate historicity, of those dreary chunks taken wholesale from other books with which some authors pad out their pages. Her writing is never slack or generalised. It conveys precise details of experience in the world she creates: exactly how spearheads are forged, the varying colours of yew and burr oak, the scents of burning herbs.

The beauty in Scott's natural world emphasises the closeness of these early Britons to the animal kingdom. There is so much about horses, symbols of the tribe, that in lesser hands the book might have turned into the Countryside Alliance with woad on its face. But Scott was a veterinary surgeon specialising in equine neonates; her description of a difficult birth where a former cavalry officer tries to save both foal and mare is moving precisely because it is authoritative and unsentimental.

In this third volume of her Boudica quartet, Scott sustains the world created in the first two novels with extraordinary power. Speaking as a Welshwoman, I can guarantee that, though there is a great deal about Celtic culture, it is free of mountain-trotting mysticism. This is a sharply- defined and cruel world, as well as a beautiful one.

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