More than a century after The Eagle of the Ninth leaves off, two cousins join the Roman side in the fight against a tyrannical British emperor. (from Goodreads)
It’s tough for any book to follow The Lantern Bearers, although technically this one comes BEFORE and it’s only my own stupidity that I read the series out of order. Anyway! The Silver Branch isn’t my favorite of the three Rosemary Sutcliff books I’ve read, but it’s not bad, either. I like it a little better than The Eagle of the Ninth, actually, and it’s interesting to see Ms Sutcliff play around with themes and ideas that show up later in The Lantern Bearers.
The Silver Branch has another almost anti-hero lead in that Justin (the lead in question) has almost none of the qualities that Aquila or Marcus have: that special thing that makes people into almost mythical leaders a la King Arthur. Justin is nice, and he has his own special charm (saving the lives of a lot of soldiers helps), but it’s really his cousin, Flavius, who has got that thing. Justin is also butt-ugly and very shy, and he’s not prone to heroics. And, actually, Flavius soon becomes the second lead almost immediately after he’s introduced, so anything lacking in Justin is made up for in him and it’s all terribly fascinating.
I really liked the bond that had with each other, and how Flavius refused to let Justin fall behind or pretend he isn’t as important as Flavius is himself. Justin may not have the thing but he’s a good person and a good physician, and he doesn’t deserve to be trampled.
There are quite a few good characters besides Justin and Flavius, but nothing on the same level as Esca or even the monk from The Lantern Bearers. I could have done with a lot less of them and the story would have still been fine, I think.
The plot was pretty good, though sometimes, mostly because there was so much in it, things felt a little overwhelming to me. Like there was too much stuff? Too many characters? It’s very busy, and though that’s a nice change from the comparatively barren The Eagle of the Ninth and The Lantern Bearers it also means that I kept getting distracted from Justin and his story.
But! The writing is still very engaging, the setting is still very realistic, and the book was ultimately enjoyable. It’s a good installment, and I can’t wait until I read the next one.
Read: October 2009