Dreaming the Bull by MC Scott (Boudica #2)

The second of Manda Scott's Boudica trilogy opens with the somewhat older Breaca (known as `The Boudica', Bringer of Victory) ambushing Romans in modern Wales. Removed from the Eceni, now of Mona, she has a son and a husband, Caradoc whilst on the other side of Britain, Ban, now firmly known as Julius Valerius, a duplicareus, is aiding Corvus in planning how they will defeat the Britons. Valerius has lost his powers as an Eceni and now is subservient to Mithras Sol.

Over the first hundred pages we follow Julius as he sweeps into the Silures territory in Rome's bid to disarm the tribes. One by one they find the blades of the Britons and destroy them, best epitomised when he locates Casselliovanus' sword and gives it to his new friend, the Thracian master of the Horse, Longinus Szvede. Together, under the guide of the Prefect Regulus they become the scourge of the Britons and the focus of the hatred of Breaca, Caradoc, Durogenes et al. After breaking out of one ‘salmon trap’ laid by the Eceni, after Corvus nearly died and after Longinus and Julius also suffer injuries it culminates in Cunomar, Caradoc, Cygfa and Durogenes capture by Julius and removal to Rome for the Britannia Triumph.

Whilst there Caradoc manages to delay their executions by offering to prevent the Dreamers from killing the superstitious Claudius from afar in return for their lives and earns a temporary respite. This denied it is only during the Triumph itself where he challenges the emperor that he manages to secure all their lives in return for Claudius' own safety. During this period what is of more import is Caradoc's realisation that Julius is in fact the not-dead Ban and all the enormity that comes with that. Julius states his belief in Aminios' lies to Caradoc's frustrations though his own struggle with the inner voices of the Dreamers shows that he must eventually weaken to the truth.

On Claudius' death, they are freed and taken by Julius to freedom, though hotly pursued by the representatives of the newly elected Nero. After Caradoc is left alive but on the Italian shore the remainder return to Breaca and the inevitable hostile reunion as Ban and his sister meet again and she realises who he is. It ends with her sending him to Hibernia.

This second effort by Scott is much… much better than the first. Gone is the heavy insinuation that Celtic Britain was dominated by totem spirituality and more focus is on providing a tautly narrated story at the end of the invading Romans and the struggle to stop them by the British. The characters are more rooted in reality and likeable, their actions more in tune with their ages. Rome factors far more heavily in this and whilst there is a lack of actual scenery in Rome, the narration of the relationships during this time means it is not overly missed. Ban/Julius' inner struggle is more plausible and whilst you want him to return to his heritage, you suspect that complete acceptance of what he has done and how much he has betrayed his own people would cause an immediate breakdown. It'll be interesting to see how Scott resolves that dilemma in the next installments. One minor annoyance is the continued insistence by Scott on calling the Druids, `Dreamers', but it is not overly important.

I stated that first installment from Scott was easily put down, that it lacks any sort of gripping edge. Not so this one. It's not quite a one sitting read but it's close and certainly ensures I will look for eagerly for the third installment.

A major improvement.

8/10 A major improvement.

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