Daughters of Fire, a review by Joanna

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Daughters of Fire
Barbara Erskine

Published 2006
560 pages

Amazon | GoodReads

This was an immersive dual timeline historical ghost story, about a university historian researching Cartimandua, the legendary Iron Age Queen – who I confess I had never heard of. I was given the paperback by a friend, and was interested to learn more about that time period, and found the supernatural elements gave it an unusual twist compared to most standard historical fiction.

Viv Lloyd-Rees is an academic at Edinburgh University’s Department of Celtic Studies, who has just completed a book about Queen Cartimandua of the Brigantes, a large tribe in Northern England during the first century AD/CE, infamous for allying herself with the Romans during their invasion of Britannia. This has infuriated her boss and friend, Professor Hugh Graham, who disapproves of Viv’s unconventional research methods and apparent fictionalisation of her subject – Carta has been appearing in her dreams, and Viv is telling her story without any proof to confirm the events. The more she learns about Carta’s life, loves and enemies, the more real it becomes, but when other more malign ghosts start to appear, in search of power and vengeance, telling the story could prove fatal.
This was first published in 2006, but the story holds up pretty well. I enjoyed the Edinburgh setting, and mentions of real-life places like Traprain (near modern Haddington) – Google Maps was helpful in both locating them and providing visuals. I feel like I learned a bit about Roman Britain – referring frequently to Wikipedia to clarify who and which were real people and places. The past scenery, dwellings, clothing, ceremonies and feasts are vividly described, but I didn’t like the overly frequent perspective changes in both timelines.
This is not a book for people who need to like the main characters – Viv, Pat and Hugh are selfish and wilfully idiotic in the pursuit of their goals, and even Carta, sympathetic and admirable as a young woman, eventually lost my sympathy as she’s increasingly led by her ovaries not her brain. While there are love triangles of sorts, this is not what I would call a historical romance, and I’m not sure I liked the ending, but I did enjoy it, and would read more from this author. It’s fairly long, and the manufactured drama between the modern day characters got very repetitive, but by the time I got halfway I was gripped enough to finish it in one sitting.

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