Sunday, February 12, 2012
The King’s Daughter by Miriam Newman
Tia is the daughter of the King of Alcinia. He is about to marry her off to a neighboring king, despite the fact that she is the heir to his throne and has always expected to marry her cousin—so much so that she throws a temper tantrum in the midst of what was to be her wedding banquet. Her tantrum is cut short, however, by an attack by their enemies, the Tumagi using weapons and ships supplied by Alcini’s ally, the Omani. Alcinia is a small kingdom and not very wealthy or populous. High Born women (including Tia) are trained for combat, but Tia is unarmed in her wedding gown. She is captured, almost raped by the enemy king (saved only by his impotence), and sold into slavery.
Tia is transported along with the other High Born women to Omana, where she is bought by Sergius Magistri, a general whom all of her people fear, as his reputation is one of ruthlessness on the battlefield. At home, however, he is a gentle man who frees her and treats her with the accord due her rank and station. They fall in love, marry, and start a family.
The Omana Empire is in trouble, however. The Emperator is clearly insane and the Emperatum is rife with corruption and debauchery. Think Caligula. It was he who supplied the Tumagi with ships and weapons for their invasion of Alcinia, despite their treaty with Omana, signed during his father’s reign. The Emerator sends Sergius to capture Alcinia, but Sergius has his own plans for the kingdom and they include returning Tia to her throne.
“Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres, quarum unam incolunt Belgae, aliam Aquitani, tertiam qui ipsorum lingua Celtae, nostra Galli appellantur.”
“All Gaul is divided into three parts, one of which the Belgians inhabit, the Aquitani another, those who in their own language are called Celts, in our Gauls, the third.”
I’ve forgotten most of the Latin I took in high school and college and confess I had to look up this quote—the opening line of Caesar’s Gallic Wars, the text that consumes every Latin student’s second year. However, I’ve included it here because Ms. Newman has really done her homework (something I didn’t do very well my second year or I might not have had to look this up). Her descriptions of life in a Roman villa, battle tactics, and conditions aboard Roman slave ships are incredibly authentic. Alcinia could well be Britania but without a description of the building of Hadrian’s Wall, and Tia could be a Celtic Princess in that she worships The Goddess, had a scrying bowl back home, and honed her religious/spiritual powers among an order of wise women she refers to as The Sisters.
This book is also told in first person, a very difficult thing to do well. Even Dostoyevsky couldn’t manage it when he started Crime and Punishment in first person. Five hundred pages into the book he had to go back and re-write it in third person. In longhand, since the typewriter had not yet been invented. Ms. Newman has carried off her first-person narration flawlessly.
This book has incredible attention to historic detail, flawless first-person narration, but most importantly, it has multi-faceted characters who will engage you. While Tia starts out as a spoiled brat, you can tell from her narration that there is a redeemable person in there and you will get to watch her grow. Sergius is fierce, but you feel his gentility from the moment you meet him, and you fall in love with him alongside Tia.
This is one incredible book. Have Kleenex close by.
Length: 331 Pages