Book Review: The Year of Ravens by Stephanie Dray et al.

The Year of Ravens was a group effort by seven talented historical fiction writers, Ruth Downie, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Kate Quinn, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney and Russell Whitfield. There is an introduction by Ben Kane. I found that the combined narrative holds together surprisingly well and the book as a whole was entertaining and informative.
The Year of the Ravens tells the story of the rebellion by Queen Boudicca of the Iceni, a British tribe, against Roman rule in 60 A.D.
By 60 A.D. the relatively mild regime of the Roman Emperor Claudius has been replaced by the harsh, rapacious and grasping rule of his stepson, Emperor Nero. When King Prasutagus of the Iceni dies, his will leaves his Kingdom to Emperor Nero and Prasutagus’ two young daughters, as joint heirs. Emperor Nero, however, has given instructions for the entire kingdom to be annexed and everything of value confiscated. The Procurator, Decianus, is sent to the King’s funeral to see to the disposition. Decianus immediately sets his slaves to the task of inventorying and seizing property. When King Prasutagus’s widow, Queen Boudicca protests, the situation gets out of hand and she is bound and flogged. When her elder daughter Sorcha tries to intercede, she and her sister, Keena, are seized and violated by Roman soldiers.
Queen Boudicca vows revenge. Her tribe, previously disarmed by the Romans, re-arms and prepares for war. When the time comes the first battle goes her way-her army surprises the Romans and kills every Roman in Iceni territory. Then she leads her army to Camulodunum and destroys the population of the city. Soon after that she destroyed the population of the newly built Roman settlement of Londinium.
The Romans blame the cult of the Druids for the civil unrest in Britain and hound the religious leaders until they take refuge on the island of Mona. Then the Romans, under Governor Paulinus invade the island and kill all the inhabitants. Only one young acolyte survives. This action enrages the native population and Boudicca’s ranks swell to 100,000. Two legions of Romans and their Gallic auxiliaries, some 10,000 men, come to take on this horde. Against the advice of Andecarus, a former auxiliary, Boudicca and her general, Duro, decide to take on the Romans in open battle, with disastrous consequences to the Iceni.
If the novel’s account of the final battle is correct, the Iceni made major strategic blunders. A competent general would have put the Trinovantes and other allied warriors in the center and kept his seasoned warriors on the flanks. That might have at least checked the rout. Another mistake was allowing the presence of supply wagons full of women and children spectators to block the path of retreating warriors. If the warriors, numbering ten times the number of Romans, had been able to regroup, they might have turned things around. As it was, the Romans slaughtered 80,000 of the Iceni and their allies, and effectively destroyed the Iceni as a tribe. Generally in the ancient world, literacy was of great military value. The Romans could read accounts of past Roman and Greek battles and deduce the proper strategy from them. The illiterate Iceni had no such advantage. With a few exceptions, this military science served the Romans well.
If one follows one’s gut feelings, it is difficult to blame Boudicca and her tribe for their ultimately futile rebellion. The Romans had no moral ground to stand on. If one relies on reason and pragmatism, however, one would have to agree with Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, who took every measure, including turning over the rebel Caratacus, to stay on the right side of the Romans.
Altogether, The Year of Ravens, is an absorbing and fascinating account of Queen Boudicca’s failed rebellion.


  1. Jeanne Voelker says

    Superb review! These authors know history, so I’m thinking this account is as accurate as it can be. Kudos to the authors and the reviewer!

  2. Thank you, Jeanne.

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