In A.D. 119 the Ninth Roman Legion marched north into the wilds of Britain beyond Agricola's Wall and disappeared without a trace. Fifteen years later, Marcus Flavius Aquila, the son of the unit's commander, embarks on a quest to recovers the lost eagle standard on the Ninth, symbol of a legion's- and his family's- honor. (from Goodreads)
I spotted on the shelf at my campus library, and the cover was so intriguing I was sure I’d like the book. And I did! It just took me a little while to get to that point.
The beginning was almost disappointingly typical 1950’s children’s historical fiction, which to me is boring. I suppose you would have had to read a lot of kids historical fiction from that time to understand what I mean, but it’s basically the feeling the books have, and while some of them can be fun, they can also be a bit bland. So I was bored for almost…30 pages? But then! The plot took a twist (crippling injury to our hero!), a new character was introduced (Esca!), and I became fascinated. It was still pretty typical 1950’s children’s historical fiction, but it was one I could enjoy.
So, yes, Esca saved the book for me, and he’s pretty much the reason I kept reading and eventually fell in love with Rosemary Sutcliff’s books. Huzzah for surly-yet-noble characters! They get me every time, I tell ya. Marcus, the main character, is quite interesting as well. I suppose he’s a bit anachronistic– he doesn’t like gladiator shows, for instance– but I really like that, instead of having a hardcore beat-’em-up-and-kick-’em-in-the-face kind of personality, Marcus is more philosophical and kindhearted. He used to be a soldier, but had to quit when he was injured pretty much at the beginning of his career (and at the beginning of the book) saving some of his men from a “barbarian” attack. He’s a little bit bitter about his injury and about losing his job, but he’s managed to find something else to do (looking for his father’s eagle) and he even kind of heals himself emotionally through his relationships with his uncle and friends. He’s a noble, brave, sweet-tempered person and a really good hero for a children’s book.
The Eagle of the Ninth starts off with a battle, but then spends a long time working through Marcus’ and Esca’s issues. It’s kind of slow, but it shows how their friendship developed and deepened until it’s something like you’d find in old legends of King Arthur, or something. The real action doesn’t happen until maybe the last half of the book, but it’s SUPER action-packed. I actually had to put the book down a few times and take deep breaths, I was so on edge. And it all concludes wonderfully, of course!
Don’t worry if you’re not overly familiar ancient Rome. It maybe helps if you know some stuff, or if you’re willing to look stuff up– some things aren’t explained in any real detail (like the army stuff) and it might be confusing if you don’t know what a pilum is, for instance. It’s a bit annoying to have to Google things, but it really does make the book more fun if you know the little things. Or maybe that’s only fun if you’re a history geek.
And! omg! I just Googled the title and a movie’s coming out in 2010! The casting is kind of disappointing, but. Er. Hopefully it’ll be great!
Read: September 2009