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Warrior Daughter by Janet Paisley,
This review is from: Warrior Daughter (Paperback)
Set at the latter end of the Iron Age in the first century of the Modern era, Warrior Daughter is about Kelts, the Keltoi - beautiful, artistic, poetic and ferocious, especially the women. These people are the progenitors of the Scotland we now know, or at least, once knew. Due to the fact they did not write their history, but related their stories through oral bardic traditions, much of our knowledge of the Kelts is taken from what some would call mythological sources (though notable Romans and Greeks did write about them). However, as a Scot who believes bardic tradition is a valid historical source, this story reads with plausibility and is populated by three-dimensional characters. But, then, obvious from her author's notes, Paisley has done much research into her characters and the place and time in which she sets the story. It is this, along with her excellent writing and story-telling abilities, that give this book its authenticity.
In the telling of the story Paisley provides a fascinating look into a society that while male and female were equal, women took the lead in the community. Women were warriors and in many cases taught men the art of war - and of love. Her main character, Skaaha, is based on the real but little known, Scáthach (her name means Shadowy One), who was a clever and fearsome Keltic warrior queen from the Isle of Skye - it is likely Scotland took its name from her. Skaaha has all the courage, skill and inventiveness of Scáthach, and her story highlights a society that understood the value of equality and respect for the feminine; the divine mother, but with some tension and conflict between old and new Druidic beliefs.
The story begins with the death of Kerrigan, the Queen, killed in a chariot race against a jealous rival. Her daughters, Skaaha and younger sister, Eefay, are sent to live with their respective fathers with that jealousy of their mother's rival stalking them through their young lives. It is against this background we follow the journey of 11 year-old Skaaha, as she grows into womanhood where she herself becomes queen at the age of 18. Her story is alive with great characters - none more so than Skaaha's half-crazed warrior aunt, Jiya - feasts and festivals marking the cycles of time and the seasons - and every child has two mothers as fostering, for many reasons, was important to the Kelts.
The backdrop to the story is Kylerhea and Glen Elg on the north west coast of Scotland, arguably, the most atmospheric, beautiful and dramatic scenery anywhere in the world. There is much nakedness, sex and violence in this book - mixed at times with no small measure of humour - but they are all important to the story as these were violent times, with tribal warring, piracy and roaming "outsiders". (The Romans had not yet invaded Britain at the time of the story, but were trading peacefully in the south and are only whispers in this story). In any event, female sexuality played a large part in Keltic belief and tradition and cannot be ignored. Nakedness and sex are nothing out of the ordinary in this society; they are norms. What is out of the ordinary is a brutal rape that takes place in the story, and if anyone is unsure just what sexual brutality is then Paisley will leave you in no doubt at all. It certainly shocked me, and I am no prude. It takes a skilled writer to write of such things and not make them gratuitous - these are not gratuitous.
Warrior Daughter is a Scottish story, but so too is it a story of the world, because at its heart it reminds us of something many modern cultures have forgotten - the importance of the "true" voice of women in our societies, and apart from being a great read, Paisley's Warrior Daughter provides a timely reminder of the importance and value of such things. Ultimately the Romans did invade Britain, and though they failed to defeat the women-led tribes of the north of Britain, their patriarchal legacy of 400 years of dominance on the south of the islands of Britain came to finally end the central role of women in Scottish society on 16 April 1746 at Culloden Moor.
Books are difficult to write at the best of times, but books such as this one are works of tall order, they take time, dedication and attention to detail. They provide great reward to the author on completion (not always monetary, it has to be said), and by default are also rewarding for the reader. Janet Paisley has written such a book; from the atmospheric first sentence to the chilling declaration that is the last, Warrior Daughter is a book that makes the ability to read a very worthwhile thing to have.