Saturday, January 19, 2008

Farewell Britannia - by Simon Young

It's 430 A.D. in Britain. The Romans have left twenty years previously and the barbarian raids are becoming more and more frequent. For the last surviving members of the Atrebates family preparations are under way for a funeral. At the funeral will be the parade of ancestors, carrying relics of the past. For one of the family members this gives them the idea to put all these people's stories on paper. From one ancestor's trip to Britain with Caesar's troops in 55 BC right up to the fate of the writer's own brother, over 400 years of Romano-British history is covered in this exciting and innovative book.

For anyone with an interest in Roman Britain or who wants an introduction to the topic this book is a definite must read. It is an ambitious project, trying to cover over 400 years of history through snap shots. Each chapter is dedicated to a different person or event. As if that wasn't enough at the end of every chapter is Young's explanation of the known facts behind that chapter. The real genius lies in the fact that the author manages to keep the book together by using the history of one family as the story. Towards the end of the book the links become more tenuous but they're still made to work. Without this the book would seem more like a collection of scenes from different films, put together because they're all Roman but nothing else links them and they don't make much sense out of the context of the whole film they're from.

I must admit I was drawn to this book because Roman Britain is one of my specialist areas (or at least I like to think so!). Despite that this book managed to bring alive several events of the period that I knew of. I loved the chapter set in AD 61 because it showed the revolt from a completely different angle than anything I've read before. The later chapters were also extremely interesting, although they may cause offence to some as they portray some over zealous Christian worshippers attacking pagans and pagan temples. We forget that this sort of thing would have happened, there's even archaeological evidence to back this up. It really is a fascinating book and well worth reading.

It's greatest strength can also be its one weakness. In some ways its a collection of short stories rather than a novel and this could put some people off. I would however say, give it a chance. I tend not to read collections of small stories but I am extremely glad I read this.

As to the historical accuracy of this book, it is very well researched by Simon Young and he is at pains to point out where he has sourced his information from. At the end of the book, arranged by chapter, is a bibliography so that you can do further readings on any of the topics that interest you. At times Young does use artistic licence but this is fiction, not non-fiction!

As mentioned above if you have an interest in the period this book is well worth reading. It is also worth trying if you want to read something a bit different or you can always dip into it if there's a particular chapter that catches your fancy (Caesar's invasion or Boudicca's revolt perhaps?).

*4 stars*

If you are interested in fictional accounts of Roman Britain why not try:
*Medicus and the Disappearing Dancing Girls by R.S. Downie
*A Roman Ransom by Rosemary Rowe
*The Horse Coin by David Wishart

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