Foreword Clarion Review
Queen of the Iceni tribe in what is now East Anglia, Great Britain, Boudicca ruled her land during a time of tumult. Aggressive Roman forces wished to subdue the Britonic tribes, such as the Iceni, which still acted with autonomy despite their nominal conquering two generations before. When Rome invaded, intending to quell the Iceni and others once and for all, Boudicca fought back, leading an uprising that defeated a Roman legion and caused the burning of London. Though Boudicca’s rebellion was swiftly put down by Rome, her resistance and courage still inspire people today.
Though Boudicca is best known for her rebellion against Roman colonists and her death shortly thereafter, Jan Surasky’s Rage Against the Dying Light covers more than these famous events. In fact, Surasky spends the bulk of her novel on Boudicca’s teen years, which she imagines were filled with sports and nature-loving gambols. With lush and leisurely prose, Surasky takes Boudicca from an energetic young woman, to a dutiful, passionate wife, to a mother intent on avenging the ill treatment of both her daughters and her adopted tribe by the invading Romans.
A former newspaper writer who has published nonfiction in multiple venues, Surasky blends what little we do know about pre-Roman Celtic tribal life with imaginative speculation, knitting them together seamlessly without anachronism or false steps. Surasky’s style shines in her detailed, loving descriptions of early Celtic ways of life. As much about Boudicca’s tribe and milieu as it is about the woman herself, Rage Against the Dying Light works best in its detailed evocation of Boudicca’s people and culture. The measured pace of the book allows the reader plenty of time to absorb the author’s meticulous images.
This is a paean to one woman’s resistance and the glory of bygone days. At its best, the book achieves a poetic flow of bucolic imagery that suggests some of the spirit that the invading Romans quashed. Though it does contain violent scenes of rape and war, Rage Against the Dying Light’s idealized tone makes the book appropriate for young adults, teens, and adults who like their history vivid and tangible.
The US Review of Books
"After their meals, they often have trials of valor, as we do. The bards and the vates celebrate the hero with wine and song."
The quote above relates the words of Diviticus, a Celtic Druid, to Boudicca, a young Celtic princess of the Coritani tribe, later to become the famous queen of the Iceni tribe who led the Celts against the Roman army. Boudicca was instrumental in amassing the oppressed Celtic tribes against the Romans, and even though she lost the battle in the end, she remains, as the author states, a symbol of human freedom.
Unlike other books about the famous warrior queen, this novel concentrates on Boudicca's younger years. As a child, Boudicca spent her days in company of her parents, learning the duties of her noble birth, riding horses upon the countryside, and idling her days by the Devon river with her friends of noble birth, and with Linnea, a farmers daughter. Later, we follow Boudicca as she gets joined in marriage with Prasutagus, chieftain of the Iceni tribe, and gives birth to her two daughters, Alaina and Valeda.
The second part of the novel takes on a darker tone, as the Romans yearn for more riches and power, and want to finish the subjugation of the Celts that Caesar didn't finish. Boudicca loses her husband to an illness, and the Romans storm her palace, raping her two daughters, humiliating Boudicca, and taking her relatives and servants as slaves to Rome.
In an act of retaliation, Boudicca convinces many other Celtic tribes to stand against the Romans as one along with her. For a long time, she is successful, but in the end, the well-trained Roman army wins, subjugating the remaining Celts. Boudicca, to avoid capture, ingests the poisonous mistletoe plant, sacred to the Celts, dying in the hands of Venutius, her childhood friend. Alaina and Valeda, her two daughters, are taken away to safety by Venutius, to spend their lives plowing the fields as farmers wives.
The book is written with a poetic flair, and reads smooth and warm despite the horrors inflicted upon the Celts by the Romans that the reader learns about. The author shows the reader a side of Boudicca that many books do not cover. We see her not just as a hero and a warrior, but also a friend, and a mother. She portrays the last stand against the encroaching might of Rome and the symbol of courage that has been hers alone in history books.
The Midwest Book Review
Boudicia was Celtic tribal royalty when Rome invaded the British Isles in the first century A.D. In their efforts to suppress the Celts, Rome attacked her tribe, killing her husband, raping her daughters, and publicly whipping her. As a result of this enormous affront Boudicca declared her own war against the Romans and any Celt that collaborated with them. With a following of thousands of warriors she nearly drove the Romans back into the sea -- but her ultimate destiny was to fail, the individual heroism of the Celts ultimately being no match for the superior Roman military armaments, tactics, and manpower. Now Boudicca's doomed but heroic struggle is the subject of Jan Surasky's gripping historical novel, "Rage Against The Dying Light". A thoroughly engaging and deftly written novel from first page to last, "Rage Against The Dying Light" is solidly entertaining and will prove a popular addition to personal reading lists and community library collections.
Eric Hoffer Award Winners issue
The US Review of Books
Jan Surasky's novel of Celtic uprising against the Romans delves into a time with little to no historical record. The only written records of Boudicca's uprising come from Roman writings, with no accounts from the Celtic perspective. These gaps in history allow her great latitude in crafting her story, and she rises to the challenge, mixing extensive research with broad creative leaps. She captures well the feelings of the Celts as they rebel against the Romans, the songs of the bards and poets, and the legacy of a queen who had the mantle of liberator thrust upon her.
Historical Novel Society
The great uprising of Celtic tribes against Roman rule in Britain in A.D. 60-61 forms the backdrop for Jan Surasky’s vivid and fast-paced novel about the leader of that uprising, the fiery-spirited Iceni queen Boudicca, who sought revenge on the occupying Romans not only for their caprice and oppression but also for raw personal reasons – her daughters had been raped by Romans, and she herself had been whipped by them.
Surasky’s novel gives readers generous and informative looks at Boudicca’s youth and upbringing, her marriage to the Iceni king, her gradual introduction to the ways of the Roman officials and retired Roman soldiers who now hold sway over her land. Much as Pauline Gedge did forty years ago (in her novel The Eagle and the Raven), Surasky shapes her story almost entirely from the viewpoint and sympathies of Boudicca herself, so the litany of Roman injustices is seen from the viewpoint of the victims – with predictable but very dramatic results. This is a fine Boudicca novel.
There are many songs and tales of Boudicca – the warrior queen who led thousands against the Roman troups set on claiming her homeland. Many depict her as a tattooed Pict, running naked, blood flying carrying a sword. She conquered Londimium (London) and sent the Romans living there into the sea. There was no mercy.
This book shows us another Boudicca. A young princess waiting to dance the Maiden’s Dance, a girl possibly loving another but submitting to her father’s choice to strengthen her tribe. A mother bravely protecting her daughters until the day she couldn’t.
For a first novel the research done is astounding. Ms. Surasky has done a creditable job of showing us life in 1st Century Briton, the tribal divisions, the food, the cultures and also those in Rome. Why Claudius felt it necessary to travel to Briton is unknown but, as we all know, he wasn’t the calmest person in history.
A great gift for your favorite historian or romance lover this is just a splendid story.
Portland Book Review
Aptly titled from a line in Welsh poet Dylan Thomas’ poem, “Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night”, Rage Against the Dying Light tells the epic of fair-haired Celtic queen Boudicca and her historic rebellion against Roman rule, as seen through Celtic eyes. With acute attention to detail, Surasky traces Boudicca’s life from the carefree castle halls and forest glens of her childhood through her spirited teenage years, her training as a Druidic princess, and her royal marriage and motherhood, and climaxes with her fierce metamorphosis into patriot warrior – a tragically triumphant role that would forever make her a symbol of Celtic courage.
Surasky’s genuine passion for her subject and affinity for her heroine emanates from every page. Her deep research creates with fine threads a vibrant tapestry of life in 1st-century Briton. Surasky poetically weaves a truly compelling story – one that vividly captures not only the spirit of Boudicca but that of the Celtic people as well; flesh and bone, heart and soul.
Bodicca and her closest friend Linnea talked of the upcoming spring rites and giggled about dancing, the boys that might attend, and who they might marry. Her days were filled with laughter and learning, and as a Celtic princess of the Coritani tribe, she lived a full and rich life.
As she made preparations to attend festivities of the various clans at the Coritani council, she thought of her closest and dearest friends Caractacus and Venutius. Her friendship with Caractacus of the Silures tribe, and Venutius of the Iberian Deceangli tribe was well known. She loved nothing better than to ride her horses with them and feel the excitement of racing across the fields with her beautiful hair flying about her.
She had long had a special friendship with the Druid Diviticus and spent time with him learning as much as she could about the Druid ways. Diviticus also told her of the many battles and the Roman subjugation of Italy, Iberia, and Gaul. She was well versed in her duties and the politics of the various Celtic tribes.
Boudicca grew into a beautiful and spirited woman. With her flaming red hair, air of confidence, joy, and strength she earned both the love and respect of those around her. As was the custom, she married the King of the Iceni tribe, Prasutagus to forge the alliance between the two tribes. King Prasutagus was a strong and loving chieftain and she spent many happy years with him sharing the joys of their two beautiful daughters. As Queen of the Iceni tribe, she experienced the strongest joys of her life as well as her darkest times.
Shortly after Prasutagus died, life changed for Boudicia. It was around this time that the Roman conquerors once again expanded their reign of terror conquering one Celtic tribe another as they waged war. Boudicca’s clan was overtaken, her family members were captured and made into slaves, Boudicca was lashed to a tree whipped, and humiliated, and her two daughters Alaina and Valeda were raped.
Hot anger and rage burned in Boudicca’s heart. As the Roman empire once again encroached upon the tribes, Boudicca did what no one believed was possible, she united them. Diviticus once said that some believed that “we will sooner see the sun set in the east than see all the Celtic tribes of Briton unite under a single banner.”
Battle after battle, the Celts under Boudicca’s leadership decimated the Roman army. Initially, they outnumbered the Romans and had the advantage of knowing the terrain. The Romans, had the tactical advantage in battle but were terrified by this strange group of warriors and their ways. The Celts would fiercely shout their battle cries armed with swords. The chieftains wore elaborate armor but most of the troops fought naked, their bodies covered with tattoos and painted bright blue like daemons. Soon the Romans adapted to the tribal ways of battle and as their numbers grew, began overcoming the Celts with their superior tactical skills.
As the Celts had no written language, what is known of Boudicca is gleaned from Roman writings, songs, and poems passed down in Celtic and Druid lore. Through extensive research on the ways and customs of the Celts, Jan Surasky has crafted a remarkable story of her young life. When the book ended, I wanted more. I was totally captivated by the customs and ways of the Celts and by Boudicca the Warrior Queen. Surasky allowed Boudicca to leap from the pages of Rage against the Dying Light in a masterful way. Not only were we reminded of her fierceness and strength, her love and devotion to her family and her people was paramount in her role as wife, mother and member of the Celtic tribes. This is a must read. Violence is not graphic and I feel that it is suitable reading not only for adults but teens and tweens as well.
The Write Review
Rage Against the Dying Light, by award winning author Jan Surasky, is a brilliantly written novel about Boudicca, Britain’s legendary warrior queen. Boudicca led a fierce and vengeful Celtic rebellion against the Roman Empire during the first century. While the Romans fought for greed, she fought for her country, her freedom and to avenge her young daughters violated by Roman soldiers when they swarmed her palace to overtake the Iceni kingdom.
Born an aristocrat of the Coritani Tribe, Boudicca is a princess destined to become a queen. As a young girl she prepares for her duty. She learns well the history, the culture and the traditions of the Celtic tribes. She also enjoys her childhood playing Tag and Run and Hide the Boar’s Tooth with her brother. She gathers violets for Beltane, the Spring Rites Festival. It’s her favorite festival. She plays with friends on the beautiful countryside overlooking the Devon River that runs down to the North Sea. Boudicca spends time among the oak trees in the Sacred Grove and ponders life, religious rites and omens. She watches for the signs of the hare to foretell the future of the Celtic Race. Before Boudicca was a queen, a wife, and a mother, she was a carefree princess of royal descent, loyal to her country and proud of her ancestors’ undefeated legacy and freedom. Later on, her vengeful rebellion toward the Romans will serve to make her a monumental figure of British History.
Boudicca marries the powerful King Prasutagus of the Iceni Tribe. They enjoy a bountiful royal life and are blessed with two daughters. Prasutagus has formed a loose alliance with Rome as a client king who answers to them, but rules his kingdom independent of the Roman tyranny imposed on other Celtic tribes. A century has passed since Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and attacked the Celtic mountain tribes of Germania: Boudicca’s flaming haired ancestors. Caesar had vowed to conquer all the barbaric tribes of the British Isles. After Tiberius, the mad Emperor, Caligula, reigned for a time then Claudius comes into power. Claudius and the Roman Senate want to finish what Caesar started almost a hundred years ago: conquer all of Britain! Each year more tribes fall under Roman rule as the empire expands. Boudicca takes quiet notice.
After a long illness, Prasutagus dies and leaves half his kingdom to the Emperor of Rome and the other half to his daughters. He believed they would be allowed to rule their kingdom and live in peace. Prasutagus was wrong. Little time passed before Roman soldiers overtake the palace and enslave the royal family. Queen Boudicca is humiliated, severely beaten with a whip and her daughters are brutally raped by Roman soldiers. It’s a vicious attack and seems a sacrilegious insult to the Iceni Tribe and their Gods. Betrayed and outraged, Boudicca, barely recovered, declares war! She gathers hundreds of thousands of Celtic warriors who resent oppression from Rome and no longer want to live like Roman pawns. Their bloody rebellion lasts for months as they sack and defeat three major strongholds of Rome. Londinium (ancient name for London), Verulamium (ancient name for St. Albans), and Camulodunum (ancient name for Colchester), are leveled and burned to the ground. Boudicca is remembered as Britain’s first heroine, a powerful queen with flaming red hair, willing to fight to her death.
Rage Against the Dying Light is written from a Celtic view verses the traditional Roman accounts of Boudicca, unsympathetic to her cause. In this historical fiction, Boudicca’s early years and motivations for her uprising come to vivid life winning, author Jan Surasky, the Eric Hoffer Award for Commercial Fiction as acknowledged in the US Review of Books. This sensational story will speak to anyone who enjoys history and historical fiction. And, it will speak, especially, to those who love history’s female heroines who are awe-inspiring, in their time and in ours, as this book is all the Rage! Jan Surasky is a seasoned author and entertainment writer who currently is writing her next novel, Back to Jerusalem.
Jan Surasky's novel, Rage Against the Dying Light, (Sandalwood Press, 2012) won the Eric Hoffer Award for fiction. Extensively researched work, it reimagines history in a way that makes the Celtic lands of the first-century very pleasingly accessible with captivating, detailed, even haunting settings, richly developed characters, and well-told social mores that define a civilization.
I was lucky enough to receive a signed copy of Rage Against the Dying Light as a gift from a friend. The book is easy to read and easy to follow. The characters came to life and I didn't have a hard time "transporting" myself into the story thanks to the use of appropriately placed descriptive words. I felt Boudicca was way ahead of her time - truly a woman of courage. I didn't want the story to end! I'm looking forward to more books by Jan Surasky.