Ashes of Britannia (The Warrior Queens)

Written by Haley Elizabeth Garwood
Review by Suzanne Crane

“From the ashes of Britannia arose a legend,” and her name was Boadicea, Druid priestess and Queen of the Celtic Iceni. This third novel in Garwood’s Warrior Queen series takes place circa 60 AD, when Rome, ever hungry for more, was establishing herself in Britannia. Boadicea, thriving on clan warfare, Druidic training and the knowledge of her destined queenship, is aware of the Roman shadow which threatens to blot out the light of freedom for the clans on Britannia. She is a natural born leader, and for the sake of her people and her family, she is willing to compromise and give token acknowledgement to Rome’s “superiority” if this means Iceni freedom.

Across the chessboard is Suetonius Paulinus. His chosen path for elevation is the military. Years of service for the glory of Rome eventually land him the governorship of Britannia. Suetonius invariably must meet the fiery Queen of the Iceni, and it is with mutual respect that each acknowledges the other’s abilities and intelligence. The beauty of Garwood’s novel is that she clearly shows that in the inevitable tragedy to come, there is neither villain nor hero. Boadicea is usually either maligned as a hotheaded, ignorant, rabble-rousing barbarian or extolled as the beautiful, doomed, helpless Queen cruelly sacrificed to Rome’s greed. On the other hand, Suetonius, being the symbol of Rome, is either portrayed as a cold, intolerant racist or the anguished victim plagued by the uncivilized tribes of a gloomy island. The freshness of Ashes is the objective view taken, that the true cause is what must come when two distinct nations collide. Both Boadicea and Suetonius are the products of their cultures, and cannot be condemned in trying to uphold the values they were taught.

Like the previous two novels in Ms. Garwood’s series, Ashes of Britannia is quick, light reading. The simplicity of her writing allows the reader to have a general sense of when events take place, while concentrating on how and why the experiences of Boadicea and Suetonius influence their decisions. This is to reinforce Garwood’s message that no matter the place in history’s timeline, cultures clash. The beauty in Boudicea’s rebellion is that the event which was less than a heartbeat in time has immortalized the Iceni Queen as a symbol for freedom while the Roman Empire has been dust for centuries.