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Sunday 30 August 2009

The Warrior's Princess

by Barbara Erskine

Anyone who has read any of Barbara Erskine’s previous books will already be familiar with the skilful way she interweaves the present, the far past and the supernatural, and this novel is no exception.

When Jess, a young English teacher, wakes one morning to realise she has been drugged and raped at her London flat, a combination of fear and shame impel her to take refuge in her sister’s cottage on the Welsh Borders. Her sister, coping with problems of her own, is staying with friends in Rome, so that Jess is in the house alone, albeit with the reassuring – if unsettling - presence of a burly opera singer at the neighbouring farm.

It turns out that the house is haunted by the spirit of a young girl, Eigon, daughter of Caractacus, a British tribal king injured in battle by the Romans. Before the family were captured and taken to Rome, Eigon suffered her own horribly traumatic experience, and her spirit latches onto Jess in their shared pain.

Jess’s attacker comes to the cottage to seek her out. To escape him, and also to follow Eigon’s story, she joins her sister and their friends in Rome, but there is no easy way out. More malevolent spirits from the days of the Romans have been awoken by the turbulent emotions surrounding her, and her attacker is still on her trail. The web is quickly spun, from which Jess’s growing obsession with Eigon’s fate prevents her extricating herself, despite the ever more desperate efforts of her friends, including a Tarot reader, Carmella.

This isn’t a ‘literary’ novel, and doesn’t pretend to be. But it isn’t trashy, either, and makes a good, solid holiday read. Barbara Erskine is arguably the mistress of this type of story, and readers of her previous book ‘Daughters of Fire’ will recognise a couple of characters from that slipping into this.

As the plot became more and more involved and, frankly, dark in places, with extra twists towards the end, I found myself getting annoyed whenever my reading was interrupted. By my reckoning, that’s a recommendation.

Reviewed by Rebecca Holmes

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