Boudica’s Daughters was written by Sheridan Winn and first published in 2016. It’s a fantasy story with historical elements, focusing on a family who are drawn closer together by both personal tragedy and an archaeological find. The novel stands alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the author’s other work to fully appreciate it.
Lilla has always seen ghosts, though she often finds that people don’t believe her. Therefore, it’s not really surprising that when her family moves out into the Norfolk countryside, she starts to see spirits of ancient warriors. Two thousand years before, the Iceni tribe was known to live in the area and when Lilla uncovers an ornamental hare in the woods behind her house, she quickly learns that it belonged to the daughter of Queen Boudica.
However, her investigation into the ghosts is put on hold when her sister returns home from University. While Lilla has always been a bit weird, her sister Janey was the life and soul of the party. Yet Janey’s not the same as she was. In the past year, she’s gone increasingly off the rails and fallen in with a bad crowd. It’s not long the family discover why, and the tragic revelation shocks all of them to the core.
In an attempt draw her sister out of her depression, Lilla enlists her to help scour the woods for Iceni treasure. As they discover more than they ever could have imagined, the sisters slowly begin to grow closer as they search for a way to both help Janey and the restless spirits find peace.
Before I begin, I really do need to warn you that this novel contains themes that I think many readers will find distressing. Some of these are mild spoilers but, it’s impossible to talk about this novel without making your aware of them. This story contains rape, drug and alcohol abuse and bad language. While I would still say that the depictions are age appropriate for older teens, I would advise reading it through yourself before giving it to anyone under the age of fifteen. If you’re affected by any of these themes yourself, you might want to give this novel a miss.
As you might already be able to tell, Boudica’s Daughters is quite a difficult novel to read because of its brutal honesty. At its core, it’s a story that shows how the rape of a minor affects an entire family – from the complex feelings of the victims to the parents’ despair that they were unaware of what had happened and had been unable to protect their daughter. I’ve criticised novels in the past for using rape for shock value – a bad thing that happens to women – but this is not one of the tales. In Boudica’s Daughters it forms the crux of the story and Winn spares nothing in accurately showing its terrible impact.
Yet, the tone of the story is ultimately upbeat. It shows that, as terrible and life-changing as rape is, it does not have to completely destroy the victim. Janey is reduced to nothing by the actions of a teenager who took advantage of her when she was drunk and unable to say no. Keeping her abuse a secret over three years almost broke her. Yet the part of Boudica’s Daughters that I found most compelling was that it also showed her recovery with the same brutal honesty. Janey relapses in her drug use and rages at her family. It’s quite clear that she will never be the same person that she once was. Yet, by the final chapter, it’s clear that she’s found her strength to go on. Through the support of family, friends and therapy, she decides that she’s not going to let the actions of one boy ruin her future. Ultimately, it’s a story of female empowerment. As Lilla puts it: We are all Boudica’s Daughters. We must be warriors. We must find our power.
Which brings me to the other side of the coin. Boudica’s Daughters is really a story of two halves. Contrasting (and occasionally reflecting) Janey’s recovery is a tale of magic and ghosts set in the heart of the English countryside. As with Winn’s Sprite Sisters series, the novel is set in Norfolk and makes good use of the area’s rich history. While a lot of this is quite speculative as so little is known about Boudica herself, it tells the story of the Iceni people and how they were ultimately wiped out by the Romans.
This half of the story probably holds equal appeal to both history buffs and people who may not be so familiar with the Iceni (personally, I found it interesting to learn more about them as I also live in this area). My only nagging issue with this plot-line was the that it dominates the novel in the final act. While it does mirror Janey’s story in some ways, as Boudica’s two daughters were also raped, it pushes the descriptions of her recovery to the background. This disappointed me a little, as I found Janey’s struggle to be compelling over the first two thirds of the book.
Like the Sprite Sisters, the novel is also incredibly English in both style and prose, which is something to be aware of if you’re not from England yourself. While the historical elements of the story are fully explained, the language used is not and so you may find that you have to Google some terms as you go along to fully understand all of the descriptions. The one that springs to mind immediately is the figure of the hare, as I’m aware that these are known as jackrabbits in some countries.
I felt that the novel’s biggest strength of all lay in its characters. There is a strong message in Boudica’s Daughters concerning the importance of family, which is helped massively by the fact that most of the characters felt so solid and real. Yet, at the same time, none of them were perfect. Everyone in this story is portrayed as being human and this made their reactions to Janey’s tragedy seem all the more believable.
The only character that I felt was a little bit weak in places was Lilla. Although she was supposed to be fourteen, she sometimes came across as being both far older and younger than this due to the way that her psychic powers were presented. Some of the things she said to Janey also left a bad taste in my mouth. I know that she was supposed to be the sort to frankly state her mind but telling a rape victim that things happen for a reason? Yeah, I fully understand why Janey got so mad at her over that.
Yet, all in all, this is an excellent character study and I think it will attract people who like realistic female characters, fans of the paranormal and English history buffs. While it’s not the easiest book to read due to its dark subject matter, it’s a powerful and memorable story and so it’s definitely one that I’d recommend.
Boudica’s Daughters can be purchased as an eBook from Amazon.co.uk