In Berger’s captivating debut historical fiction, a young Iberian-Celtic she-warrior makes a stand against the invading Roman army.
In Hispania, 184 B.C., 11-year-old Lavena, daughter of the village leader, witnesses the brutal murder of an old farmer by a Roman soldier. The villagers’ worst fears are confirmed: Hungry for gold, mighty Rome has broken the peace treaty and is preparing to invade and conquer. A proud, determined people, Lavena’s clan decides to train and fight against the overwhelming invaders. Lavena, now 15, has learned the ways of the she-warrior—women who use their strength and intelligence to outwit and kill their male counterparts. When the village is consumed by the crushing army, Lavena’s father urges her to take the family gold and escape; his dying wish is for her to warn surrounding villages and unify the people to take a stand against Rome. Smartly written, the novel moves quickly, building prose with quiet strength unencumbered by the heavy style. Its bare-bones flow seems to fit the time period. The simple yet powerful narrative relies on a commanding cast of characters, many of whom are indeed women, celebrated for their resiliency and constitution. These women are the leaders of the resistance and they rely on no man for guidance. Berger beautifully crafts them as more than one-dimensional warriors bent on revenge. They’re strong yet vulnerable, desperate to protect their land and people. Berger also builds an elaborate world full of small details that add depth and historical context. However, with so much attention to detail and a great deal of buildup, the novel concludes perhaps too quickly, which may leave readers slightly disappointed.
A wonderfully crafted balance of Roman-era drama and the fierceness of battle.