CHARIOT OF THE SOUL

Synopsis

Set at the time of the Roman invasion (AD40-3) the story is about the last British king. It opens in Rome with a mad parade of Caligula as a living god. To escape the insanity, Togidubnus, a son of King Verica who has been living in Rome as a hostage since the age of ten, accepts a mission to Greece in service of Vespasian. The Oracle at Delphi tells him to ‘go home and marry your mother to your father.’ He assumes this means legitimize a union founded on rape, but he does not want to go home to barbaric Britain. Togidubnus, who prefers his cradle name of Delfos, is a keen student of Seneca. But fate cannot be stalled: his father Verica, dispossessed by a rival chieftain, Caratacus, comes to Rome to appeal to Emperor Claudius for help. Claudius agrees and sends Verica and his son home in advance of the army to negotiate with the tribes, promising them peace and prosperity in return for submission to the Romans.

Once home in Britain, Delfos begins to find his own barbarian roots. His visionary powers bloom into full life and he sees and communes with the spirits of the land. The Roman plan for him to go on a straight road to the great midsummer assembly at Venonis is queered at every step and, having begun his journey north, Delfos is soon being led south. This takes him to Avebury and Bath and into the company of druids.

Britain is divided between those who welcome the Romans and what they offer in increased trade and prosperity, and those who will fight to the death to remain free. Delfos soon finds he is of both persuasions and relies partly on his stoicism, partly on the guidance of spirits, to grope his way forward through uncertain territory to the climax of the book at Venonis.

A sequel will take the story to AD46 and the genocide of the druids.

Foreword by Rev Prof Martin Henig FSA

I have long admired Linda Proud’s superb novels about Renaissance Italy, which have allowed me to enter the life of Florence under the Medici, with the excitement of the rebirth of Platonism and the flourishing of an artistic culture unique in human history. Of course there is copious documentation for the Quattrocento and Cinquecento, and the four great novels, a trilogy and its prequel, combine imagination with solid history to a quite remarkable degree.

Chariot of the Soul has set her an even greater challenge, for what we have of the history of early Roman Britain amounts to a few pages by writers who had never been to the island, and whose comments are, in the case of Tacitus especially, certainly mired in prejudice. Archaeology and epigraphy (inscriptions) can add a bit, and the excavations at Bath and especially Fishbourne as well as recently at Alchester, Oxfordshire, have been a revelation. We can at least begin to bring into the light a ruler who is briefly mentioned by Tacitus for his loyalty to Rome and, on an inscription recording the building of a Temple to Neptune and Minerva at Chichester, West Sussex, a mile or so from Fishbourne palace, is described as ‘Great King in Britain’. Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus may have been as important in the history of civilisation and polite culture in Britain as was Lorenzo de Medici in Florence, and it is the great achievement of Linda Proud to rescue him as an individual we can come to know. He deserves no less.

In the past pre-Roman and Roman Britain has been presented far too much in simplistic terms, in which the inevitable battles, baths, amphitheatres and samian pottery take centre stage, but for those who lived in the first century of our era there was much more to lives that were at least as rich and varied as our own. These people lived in a vibrant religious and artistic society, open to new philosophical ideas from as far as Greece, and at last we have an author who does them justice. This book does for early Roman Britain what John Cowper Powys did for the end of Roman Britain in Porius and, like that great novel, it is a masterpiece.

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