Reviewed by K. Osborn Sullivan for TeensReadToo.com
URSULA'S MAIDEN ARMY is a work of historical fiction based loosely on the legend surrounding Saint Ursula. According to the author's notes in the book, there is a popular German legend that surrounds a young woman who was sainted by the Catholic Church hundreds of years after her death. She had lived in the fourth or fifth century A.D., at about the same time that Rome collapsed. According to the legend, Saint Ursula led a band of armor-clad virgins on a mission. The names of Ursula's closest friends survived in the legend, and these are featured in the book.
URSULA'S MAIDEN ARMY tells the story of Britannic Princess Ursula and her band of loyal friends. The young women are all aristocrats, well-educated and schooled in hunting and weaponry. They are devastated when their intended husbands are all sent away with the Britannic forces to fight for Rome. While the men's army is away, Ursula's homelands are exposed to raiders and invaders of all sorts. This leads Ursula to form her women's army to protect her people. The force's efforts are a huge success at home, which encourages the women to attempt an even bolder campaign.
Since details about Ursula's real-life exploits are few, the author of URSULA'S MAIDEN ARMY, Philip Griffin, had to take quite a few liberties when writing the book. For example, no one knows exactly what the mission was that led Ursula and her all-female army from their homes, so Griffin supplied one. No one knows what these women endured on their campaign, so Griffin offers readers a possible scenario. And no one knows exactly what fate befell them, except that the bones of thousands of women form the foundation of the ancient St. Ursula's Church in Cologne, Germany. This mystery led Griffin to create an event so devastating that it would explain the deaths of that many young women.
This is an interesting tale for readers of historical fiction. It offers a great deal of information about ancient military campaigns and weapons. Sometimes too much information. I found parts of it dry and skipped chunks of text where the characters discussed military matters. That sort of information might be fascinating to some, but I just wanted to get back to the story. I was also irritated by the religious fervor demonstrated by one particular young woman, together with the fact that her friends consistently just went along with her zealotry. Finally, I had some trouble believing that Ursula's troops enjoyed as much success in their battles as they did. These were essentially girls who were trained by other girls, and they fought against battle-hardened men. Yet time and again, Ursula's army walked away virtually unscathed.
All in all, URSULA'S MAIDEN ARMY is an intriguing peek at the sorrows and triumphs of life fifteen hundred years ago. It is clear that this piece of historical fiction is very heavy on the fiction, but it is an entertaining story nevertheless.