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Red Queen, White Queen

Red Queen, White Queen, published in 1958, was one of historical novelist Henry Treece’s better known books. As Michael Moorcock, a great admirer of his work, says in the introduction “There is little overt ‘magic’ in these tales, yet the magic – the mystery – permeates them.” The novel deals with Boudicca’s revolt against the Romans in 61 A.D., although it really deals more with the fates of a number of relatively unimportant people whose lives are changed forever by these events. Treece was especially good at dealing with periods of transition, where one civilisation was declining and giving way to another that was on the rise, and also with people whose loyalties were divided as a result. Most of his historical novels deal with Celtic themes. He was very good at bringing pre-Christian societies to life, without glamorising them or overly romanticising them. In Red Queen, White Queen he focuses on Gemellus, a Roman soldier, a British princeling called Duatha and Eithne, daughter of the king of the Catuvellauni. In Boudicca herself he has created an unforgettable portrait of an extraordinary woman, a woman who is very much a barbarian but also very much a queen.

As Moorcock points out, Treece was unlucky not to have been born a couple of decades later when his work would have found much greater favour and a much wider audience. He was a man who really didn’t quite fit the temper of his times, a Romantic at a time when that was an unfashionable thing to be. He was, in spite of this, moderately successful during his lifetime (he died in 1966). Since then he was been all but unforgotten which is a very great pity. His books were published in paperback by Savoy Books back in the 70s and used copies are very easy to pick up and extremely cheap here in Australia, and I imagine in Britain as well. I don’t know how easy they’d be to find in the US. It’s a tragedy that they’ve stayed out of print now for so long, but they are very much worth tracking down. He wrote historical fiction for children as well as his historical novels for adults.

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Yes, now that I have come across this entry I remember Henry Treece.

As a child I would go to the public Library and head almost straight off for the "T" section - historical fiction was a great draw, even then. And I never felt that he was writing for children.

He led me on to the great Mary Renault. Rosemay Sutcliffe and Stephanie Plowman were also great favourites of mine. Yet I also enjoyed the light-hearted approach (most of the time) offered by Georgette Heyer. All of these taught me about grammar, plot and suspense!
He wrote historical fiction for children and for adults. I haven't read any of his children's fiction. I agree about Mary Renault - a wonderful writer.