Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

Title: The Eagle of the Ninth
Author: Rosemary Sutcliff
Publisher: Oxford University Press (1954); Farra, Straus and Giroux (1993)

The Eagle of the Ninth is set in Roman Britain in 2nd Century AD. The eagle standard of the Ninth Roman Legion disappeared, along with the Legion, over a decade ago. The Legion marched north to suppress a rebellious group of Britons and was never heard from again. Marcus, a former Centurion and son of the commander of the Ninth Legion, has been tasked with going north and finding the lost eagle.

This book was very slow to start for me. In fact, I set it down twice for a couple weeks during the first half but once the second half rolled around I finished it in the same day. The first half felt like a lot of getting know Marcus, whom I liked but it was still a bit slow. The second half was more exciting for sure and I really enjoyed the action and the descriptions of the north. The well-realized environment was a strong point of the book actually and the atmospheric nature of the landscape really drew me in. I felt as creeped out by the mist as the characters when the creepy mist was out and about (cuz, you know, sometimes it's just regular mist and there's no need to get the creeps).

While I liked Marcus quite a lot there were some aspects of his character that took me out of the story. He was really ahead of his time in regards to the rights of the empire and slavery. I naturally enjoyed his kinder, gentler views on the world but they didn't seem realistic. I found the expression, both internal and external, of his feelings to be very natural but I didn't buy what those feelings were at all times. It was all just a bit too 'we are the world' for me.

Overall, though, I recommend the book. Be sure to stick with it if, like me, you find it slow to start because it really picks up and is a very cool story. There's a note from the author in the front about her inspiration for the story. On a related note this is my first Sutcliff book and I'm looking forward to the rest of her backlist.

rating: 4 of 5 stars

ETA: Anthony Lawton dropped by and sent a link to a site he manages that has tons of information regarding Sutcliff's books. Click here to start exploring this excellent resource. 

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