Monday, 3 August 2015

Daughters of Fire by Barbara Erskine

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This is a book in one of my 'Connected Reading' threads. The first book was A Brief History of the Celts by Peter Berresford Ellis (review here). The book mentioned two of the very few Celtic queens; Cartimandua and Boudica. This book is about Cartimandua. As Peter Berresford Ellis mentions, we don't know so much about these queens, or the early Celtic tribes since there are no written sources to be found. Archeological finds, and mostly, references from the Romans are the base of what we know today.

As usual in Barbara Erskine's books we travel through time. It is not, like in the Outlander series, that you stay on in the past, Here you are going back and forth during small intervalls. That is why it becomes so thrilling, because you just get a small piece of the story at a time. However, the story of the present time is also interwoven with the past. I remember reading Lady of Hay many, many years ago and absolutely loved it. This book reminds me how much I love her tales, and I wonder why I have not read more of them.


The reason for the time travelling in her books are related to a place, a token, an artefact or similar things. In this one a pin found while excavating a Celtic sight is the trigger. It affects everyone who touches it. In this story there are three of them. Viv, a historian, who has written a book about Cartimandua, Hugh, her professor and boss and Peggy, an actress who is making Viv's book into a radio play. They are all 'haunted' by different persons; Viv by Cartimandua, Hugh by Venturios (Cartimandua's husband and king) and Peggy by Mebd, a young second wife to a king, who is revengeful and her whole life's mission is to hurt Cartimandua.

Cartimandua became the queen of the Brigantes, a tribe in northern England, and ruled ca 43-69 AD. This was at a time when the Romans tried to conquer England. Instead of fighting Cartimandua made a deal with the Romans, she received wealth and protection from the Romans. However, this also made her vulnerable towards other tribes who did not give in to the Romans, but fought them, and became more or less slaves under the Roman yoke.

From the few things we know of Cartimandua, Barbara Erskine has woven a fantastic tale of love, betrayal, revenge and loyalty. It makes perfect sense, although we can not know how she was, how she felt and what she did. We follow her from a young age, how she marries and matures, how she becomes queen and the problems that come with this post. We also get glimpses of her thoughts, her loves and her sorrows. It is all very touching, wonderfully written and above all exciting and thrilling. We can only imagine how it was to live in those days when every day was a fight for survival.

An extract from 'Postscript Two' of the book, which is an address given by Meryn Jones, who in the book, is a person who believes there is something more in the world, something between life and death, something not everyone can see.

The Content Reader reading at the Rode Kloister, Brussels, Belgium
Like Hamlet, I believe there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophies.
LIke many religions of the world, I believe the soul goes on many journeys through many lifetimes, in many forms. It is given choices and it makes them. And it never dies The ideal destination of the Celtic soul is of course Tir n'an Og, the land of the Ever Young. The Isle of the Blessed.
But, like the Celt, I also believe in a form of reincarnation. Some believe, and I agree with them, that the soul, on occasions splits into three parts on death, one part to reincarnate, one to go to the Blessed Isle and one part to enter another life form - perhaps a bird or a shooting star. Others believe, and I agree with them, that sometimes the entire soul returns to this Earth in a new body. Others again believe, and I agree with them also, that the soul can choose to return to this Earth as a sprit. As a ghost. Indeed sometimes this occurs inadvertently and the soul fins itself trapped on this Earth. 

This makes me think of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger which read recently (review here). It has the same theme. Is there something more between life and death? A very big question.

I must admit that this is one of the books where I have problems coming back to my own time. The time of the Celts lingers in the back of my head when I go about my daily life.

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