Ursula’s Maiden Army
This novel for young adults is based upon the legend of St. Ursula and the 11,000 virgin martyrs of Cologne, and, despite attempts to update the story by transforming them into a disciplined legion of women soldiers, it preserves many aspects of its sources.
Here Ursula is a princess who, along with other royal and aristocratic ladies, raises and trains a legion of women to protect Britain while the men are away fighting on the continent. Eventually, they sail to meet and marry the men, then return together, but most of the Britons are slain in the wars that destroyed the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century. Ursula and the remains of her legion fall in battle against the Huns.
That the author should freely adapt material that has been imaginatively expanded throughout the Middle Ages is only fitting, though the plot does ramble as a result. More problematic, however, is the treatment of character, which adheres to the idealization and sentimentality of the medieval pious romances. If this improbable tale were to succeed, the reader would need to care deeply for its female heroes. Despite attempts to humanize them, they remain irritatingly virtuous, their characters unchanged by the experience of military warfare.