This is the third book I have read in Miss Scott's series about Boudica and I have quite enjoyed them all. The first is probably the best and the most readable. The trouble is, we know virtually nothing about Boudica and the whole premise of the story hangs on a few lines in Tacitus and later Dio Cassius, plus, of course, later and recent archaeological evidence of Boudica's disastrous revolt. Therefore, we have to accept from the outset that 99% of the work is pure fiction and as such it's done quite well. This review is partly a catch-all.
There is a huge amount about "dreaming" as a skill (as you might expect from the titles), the ancestors, visions, psychic skill and so on that can become hard to take and really tedious after the twentieth time. I have no doubt that our forefathers were more alert to natural processes and far more sensitive to Nature's lessons and warnings, but the writings of my farming ancestors and the records of their men speak of bloody hard work, great knowledge about the countryside (although not of plant names, funnily enough), a very great deal of disease and early death and huge amounts of alcohol just to get through the day. There wasn't very much dreaming, and country folk, although deferential to the Rich and Famous and Religious, had little time for them or for organized religion in any form. Miss Scott's English on this is sometimes tortuous to the point of a real lack of clarity, and I found myself reading and re-reading certain passages, especially in The Hound, just to be clear about who was doing what to whom, and why, and if at all.
Her depiction of animals and livestock is good and readable (she is, after all, a vet), as is her description of the various lurcher-like dogs that occur in the book, although the Crow Horse would have been killed and eaten the first time it played up. The Romans actually found horses a real pain and much preferred cattle as day-to-day working animals. Any interested readers should look at the history of the Chianina Breed to learn more about this side of things and also research the fact that Romans used draft cattle wherever and whenever possible. They thought that horses were lame quadrupeds in which the first sign of illness is sudden death, as right-thinking people do now.
The side-story of Ban/Valerius is odd, and very patchy, and even with the few relationships that there are in the book, once again you may finding yourself flipping back to just be clear who is who. Invented characters can be difficult to maintain in a quasi-historical narrative, and the Ban figure is unattractive, inconsistent and unbelievable. I enjoyed her treatment of the Emperor Claudius who, as she rightly says, has been somewhat whitewashed by Robert Graves and recent treatments. There is no suggestion that any Roman Emperor (or his close family) was anything other than quite unspeakably nasty - they had to be to survive. Invasion and Empire are never pleasant in any way, but with Miss Scott there is just far too much guesswork about Britain and how it reacted in these times as there are few Latin texts and no native writings at all.
The other view that is quite allowable is that Boudica was a pretty ghastly woman, a sort of proto-punk with teeth, who didn't realise that the game was up, however awful that situation may have seemed to many. Her last few months of rebellion left tens of thousands dead, many of them her own people, and the ramifications were desperately horrible for native Britons. Archaeology from last year alone is beginning to show the true extent of her destruction. I would imagine that the locals on the south-easy were finding it very hard to decide who was the most awful - Boudica or the Romans. The trouble is with Noble Causes is that they end up with thousands dead, always and almost without exception: most of them are, of course, women, children, the old and the infirm. The other thing that suffers is the food supply (which few nowadays realise, understand or care about) when 95% of the population was involved in farming and gathering, as opposed to the one-third of one percent as is the case in the UK now.
An agreeable if sometimes stodgy read, but about 200 pages too long and written in a wordy style with too many convoluted sentences. It's a real achievement, but some very rigorous editing would have made a significant difference to all three books. All in all, it is a work of fiction and, as such, the narrative is just racy enough for it to succeed.