This is the fictionalized story of Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, from her birth to her death as seen through the eyes of her faithful harpist and friend.
The strongest value in this book is courage. That is the most important thing to the queen and her people. Loyalty is also highly valued, as well as revenge. The harpist values innocence and purity, but that is overwhelmed by the queen's thirst for blood and the general aspect of the book being about revenge and such.
They believe in various gods, sacrifices are made, and spells are cast.
Men are killed in battle. Boudicea's husband is trampled by a herd of horses. Many animals are slain as sacrifices. Many men are killed while feasting and others are taken away as slaves. Bouadicea is flogged. They slay an old man and carry his head on a spear. They slaughter all the inhabitants of a Roman city. Boadicea has the women killed in a horrible way, though it is not stated what that was. It is mentioned that they flayed three men. After fighting a battle, they crucify the surviving enemy and slaughter every inhabitant of the city. Cadwan fights in the last battle when almost everyone is killed. The two princesses, whom he loved as daughters, are slain before his eyes. He is mortally wounded. Boadicea is wounded but heals before she kills herself. The story ends with Cadwan dying.
Drug and Alcohol Content
They drink wine and beer frequently, and the Romans get drunk while visiting the Iceni. The queen and her ladies poison themselves.
Boadicea refuses to sleep with her husband at first, (at which time he mentions that he has slept with other girls before) but after he saves her life she removes the sword that she had lain between them clearly implying a change in their relationship. Cadwen, the narrator, mentions the queen stripping more than once and at one point she dances naked under the moon. The princesses are raped. The warriors do something too terrible for Cadwen to remember to the women of a town, and it seems to be connected to the above event. After the Corn Feast the young women get pregnant out of wedlock. None of it is delicately handled.
Crude or Profane Language or Content
I wish I had not read this book because of the immorality and the depression. Boadicea is first a sweet, innocent child but the story grows darker and she turns into only the Priest-Queen, filled with bitter hatred and desire for blood. But even then there are glimpses (through Cadwan's eyes) of the human Boadicea making me want to scream because everything is so wrong. There is no Christian worldview to this book as it grows increasingly darker, at last ending in despair with no ray of light or hope. Other Sutcliff books are for more worth reading than this.