Victoria: Born to be A Warrior
by Frances Hendry
Published by Hodder
214 pages, 2004
Buy it online
All Hail Victoria
Reviewed by Sue Bursztynski
It's a brave writer who takes on the territory of Rosemary Sutcliff: Roman Britain. Sutcliff's classic children's historical novels did for early Britain what Mary Renault's did for ancient Greece. It is difficult to imagine anyone else traveling the same route with as much success.
Nonetheless, Frances Hendry takes it on. Hendry's Victoria: Born to be A Warrior begins in an earlier era than Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth, in which young Roman Marcus Aquila searched for the lost Eagle standard of his father's vanished legion, to restore their honor and ended by remaining in Britain.
Victoria begins in the year 61 CE, shortly before the rebellion of Boudicca, warrior Queen of the Iceni tribe. Victoria, daughter of an Iceni woman married to a Roman merchant in Londinium, learns that the Roman isn't her father. She is a full Iceni whose British name is Boudicca, like the Queen, and her British relatives, visiting Londinium, help her to escape from an unwanted marriage.
Victoria, a tough young woman with fighting skills, manages to make something of a place for herself among the young warriors, but she is far from universally popular and makes one deadly enemy in particular. To the Iceni, she is always "the Roman girl," not to be trusted. When the rebellion begins, she finds herself in the difficult position of having friends and family on both sides and being trusted by neither.
Victoria has a little more depth than the average juvenile historical. No one can ever recapture the magic of Sutcliff, but this is a decent effort: a well-told tale with a good variety of sympathetic characters. Hendry doesn't mess around: the era she's describing here is a brutal one and she doesn't disguise this. The Britons have excellent reason for their rebellion, but they also practice human sacrifice, if mostly voluntary (not entirely; in one scene, Victoria and her mother see a sacrificed baby at the foot of a sacred tree). When they attack a Roman town, even the children are slaughtered, along with the rest of the inhabitants. Culture clash is presented believably; the Roman governor whose actions led to the rebellion has to have it explained to him that, far from cowing the tribesmen, his attack on the sacred person of their queen has merely provoked them -- and, quite simply, the Britons enjoy fighting. People of different backgrounds have different accents, quite recognizable and separate, a nice touch unusual in this kind of novel.
There are a few strange elements, such as Victoria/Boudicca's apprentice bard cousin, Cram, who loses first two fingers, then an ear, in the course of his fighting and is able to crack jokes about it while bleeding away. Bravery is all very well, and maybe the pain is delayed, but if someone chopped off my ear or fingers, I'd at least say, "Ouch!" There's also the fact that he is studying to be a bard in the first place because a serious injury makes it difficult for him to go into battle, yet he does go into battle and his crippled state doesn't seem to hold him up much. Perhaps I missed something here?
However, this is a quibble. The language is good, the style fast-moving, but time is taken for character development.
Victoria is the first in a planned trilogy. It will be interesting to follow it through to the end and see how the heroine develops. | March 2004
Sue Bursztynski is a children's and fantasy writer and librarian based in Australia.