Title: The Eagle of the Ninth
Author: Rosemary Sutfliff
My rating: 4 of 5
The Ninth Legion marched into the mists of Northern Britain―and they were never seen again. Four thousand men disappeared and their eagle standard was lost. It’s a mystery that’s never been solved, until now . . .
Marcus has to find out what happened to his father, who led the legion. So he sets out into the unknown, on a quest so dangerous that nobody expects him to return.
For some reason it feels like I’ve been having trouble picking really, truly good reads of late (The Children of Húrin aside), and now I have found one. I learned of The Eagle of the Ninth through another author who gave a list of some of her favorites and inspirations for the books that she wrote, so I thought ‘Why not?’.
Why not, indeed. And then, why not sooner?
This is a good story about a young man whose goals in life and dreams of the future change drastically due to unfortunate and unforeseen events. Who he thought he was and what he thought he wanted turn out to be shades of a former life he can no longer return to.
The story follows Marcus Aquila, a young Roman soldier, as he goes from his first Cohort Command in Britain to a lame veteran within a short period of time, his dreams dashed and his prospects rather depressing. Things change, though, when he hears rumors of the lost Eagle of the Ninth Legion ─ his father’s Legion ─ who some twelve years before marched out into the mists of the North and never returned. With the aid of his British-native friend Esca the two young men venture forth into hostile territory to find and retrieve the Eagle. The journey takes them long and far from Marcus’s home, and along the way he discovers the truth of what happened to the lost Legion, as well as his father.
Ere all is ended, friends become enemies, strangers become allies, and the struggles of the heart and body are tested to their limit. For what? Honor. Redemption. And good hunting. Filled with bravery, mettle, and the bonds of true camaraderie, this is one of those stories that sparks ye grand olde heroism, wit, a wile.
I loved the characters (primarily Marcus, Esca, and Uncle Aquila). Marcus had to build a new outlook and dream for his future from the ashes of his former life. His kindness, fairness, and compassion earn him the affections and loyalty of those around him ─ but he’s also a fair bit wily, and when he and Esca go into a ruse together you had best watch out. Those two are the definition of brothers not of blood, but of bond. Coming from two widely contrary worlds, they have yet found kinship. They’re the Legolas and Gimli of the historical Roman Britain world. Jonathan and David. Duncan and Niun. For that I will give this story a five.
When it comes to Sutcliff’s writing, I can easily see why she has been such an inspiration, and indeed I, too have found some in her work. It’s beautiful. The way she depicts the landscapes is vivid, and how she describes light is just wonderful. From candleflame and lanterns to mountain sunsets and evening watchtowers, it’s all just gorgeous.
If you’re a connoisseur of imagery, read this book. Of personal journeys, read this book. Of historical fiction, read this book. Of good, old fashioned daring-do, read this book. If you love reading, READ THIS BOOK. It’s a good book, a good story, and if I haven’t been too obvious already (heh, heh), I really enjoyed it.
I am now trying to be a bit more intentional about my reading, as well as making a more concerted effort to keep reading (because believe it or not, it gets hard to keep up with reading books when you’re writing them). That’s partially why I post these reviews here, to keep me accountable. Reading is the lifeblood of a writer, a huge source of fuel for the forge, and to neglect it is like a student neglecting their studies, a gardener abandoning his garden, a smith forgetting to feed his fire.
So!Now, along with the review I post every month, I’m going to Plan Ahead what I intend to read next and share that, too. Feel free to poke me now and again over the month to see how I’m doing.
In light of that, for this next month I intend to be reading Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn, the first in a quartet called Tales of the Otori. I’m pretty excited about it!
And how about you? What are you reading of late?