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. The Eagle of the Ninth is heralded as one of the most outstanding children’s books of the twentieth century and has sold over a million copies worldwide. Rosemary Sutcliff writes with such passion and attention to detail that Roman Britain is instantly brought to life and stays with the reader long after the last page has been turned.
The plot of The Eagle of the Ninth has come under a lot of scrutiny in the years since it was written, historians now dispute many of the essential facts that Rosemary Sutcliff based this book on. I don’t tend to read much historical fiction, and certainly very little that’s set this long ago, so I was quite prepared to sit and enjoy the story and accept it as a fictionalised take on Roman Britain.
The book begins by introducing us to Marcus Flavius Aquila, a Centurion who is plagued by the mystery of the disappearance of his father’s legion years ago. After he is injured in battle he goes to live with his uncle, and after saving Esca, a slave, begins a quest to find the truth of what happened to his father.
It’s hard to talk about either Marcus or Esca on their own. Their friendship is forged so strongly, it must be the Roman version of a bromance. I loved reading about them, and seeing how their friendship developed despite some of the social and attitudinal challenges they faced. Cottia, the young girl who lives nearby was another character I loved, she was strong minded and forthright, my kind of character.
The book was written in 1954 (my dad remembers reading it at school when he was young) so the language used and the writing style is pretty different to what we’re used to now in YA fiction. Initially I felt it was a little stodgier to read, but once I reached the first battle scene I was hooked and flying through it. There is a fair amount of unfamiliar vocabulary with all of the Roman terminology used, I didn’t find this to be a problem for me – it was no different to reading a fantasy or dystopian novel.
I got completely lost in this book, by the time I reached the end I was so disappointed that it was over. I know that there are further books in the series, but they each act as a stand alone book so I’m not sure whether I will be reading them or not – it is the story of Marcus and Esca that I want to read more about, and sadly that doesn’t exist.
Eagle of the Ninth is published in paperback by OUP in the UK priced £6.99