I am French. 25 years ago, I bought an abridged and translated version of The Eagle and the Raven and absolutely loved it. Over the following years, I read and re-read it many times until all the characters had become intimately familiar. Then one day, while in a library, I opened an encyclopedia and looked for Boudicca. I knew she had really existed and I wanted to know how much of the story matched reality. Then I looked for Caradoc. And there he was, a real-life character, son of Cunobelin, brother of Togodumnus. I discovered that all the main characters in The Eagle and the Raven were based on real-life characters. Even Aricia and her husband had existed. I was astonished. What had started as a novel had become a startling tale of historical events. Fictionalized, but real nonetheless.
When I came to the United States, I looked for a long time for an English and unabridged edition and, after a few years, to my eternal delight, I was finally able to buy a new copy (Penguin edition). I have read it 4 more times since. I guess I will never tire of reading this book anymore than I would tire of seeing the same friends over and over again.
This is a magnificent novel that has stirred me and moved me, written by a uniquely gifted storyteller. Her main characters are well drawn out, their evolution well developed and explained, the book spans 30 years.
I have read with some curiosity the negative reviews written about this book and must conclude that as with all books, taste is a personal matter. However, regarding the alleged slowness of the first 200 pages, given that the story starts approx. 8 years before the initial landing by the Romans, it gives us time to get acquainted with the main characters of the story. It is essential in understanding the future interaction of all main characters AND the development of the resistance among some tribes. It contrasts with poignancy a way of life before the invasion by the Romans with the brutal oppression that follows, and the usual but unforgivable deportation of natives. It illustrates the choices made by men (Caradoc) and women (Boudiccca) unflinching in their quest for freedom and personal choice vs. the greed, compromises or complacency displayed by others (Aricia and Prasutugas). As in all wars, some will place personal comfort above the needs of a nation. Caradoc, Eurgain, Gladys, Boudicca and Plautius are not cardboard characters, they are alive, well defined, flawed, and so human, and I think of them as old friends who have become intimates over the years. My only regret is that some of the minor characters were not more developed such as Cinnamus, an ever fascinating character, or Vida.
As a foot note, I read a few interviews with Pauline Gedge because I wanted to know more about the author. I discovered that she had worked in collaboration with her then husband who did most of the research while she wrote. Based on the resulting book he must have been an excellent researcher. The internet is a wonderful tool for research, but when this book was written and first published in 1978, the internet didn't exist and all the research had to be done through documents and publications.
I have never read another book by Pauline Gedge, probably because I know that nothing else would be as satisfying as this one magnificent novel. 10 stars and more.