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Saturday, 23 April 2011

BOOK REVIEW: The Eagle of The Ninth (Rosemary Sutcliff)

Book: The Eagle of The Ninth (also called The Eagle)

Author: Rosemary Sutcliff

Rating:  7.5/10     This book it hard to do a rating for as it's so different to what I normally read so It's hard to compare, But although not everyone will like it I think it's easily a 7 pushing up into a 8.

Recommended Age:  12- ancient

The Ninth Legion of Rome marched into Northern Britain and were never seen again, four thousand men disappeared and the eagle was lost. Marcus's  Father was one of the commanders of that cursed Legion.

Marcus himself is a centurion in a cohort of the second legion. And is heading with his troops to refresh the garrison at one of the frontier forts he's not there long before a druid inflames the native tribes against the Romans and attacks the fort/camp that serves as their base.

Then mid-attack a patrol returns and needs rescuing from the onslaught.The troops march out in the roman legions renowned testudo,or tortoise formation, and carve a path to the embattled group to help them make it back to the safety of the camp. Almost to safety suddenly chariots come charging trying to mow down the soldiers. Marcus hurls himself at the leading one and brings it crashing down then falling unconscious.

Waking up several days later he finds himself  alive but his leg is badly injured.His action saved his men but has ruined his career and ambitions .Unfit to return to duty and his leg needing plenty of R&R he gets taken in by his uncle who settled in Britain at the end of his career.

(Now I'm not going to lie but the next 30 or so pages of the book are a bit tedious but stick with it)

It then goes on about his life with his uncle and slow recovery of his leg, meeting the neighbours and one of the most and only  important events of this section. He visits the Saturnalia Games where in the fight to death he turns the crowd into sparing the life of the loser who he then buys as a personal servant..
he meets a couple  of various other characters which so far seem to have very little to do with the actual story line after this bit. like a fried of this uncles who re examines his leg and finds some of the problem the other surgeon missed, although it will never fully heal. there's a few more bits and pieces that slightly tie in with the rest of the story.

Then the story picks back up with rumours of the Ninth eagle being seen in the hands of some tribes. The legions can't send people after a rumour but Marcus can go by himself. Accompanied by his servant Esca who is now more his friend than servant,, and knowledge in healing eyes as a cover, he sets off in pursuit off the rumours and tales of the Ninth legion and their resurfaced  Eagle.

Travelling through the wild north for days on end they meet Guern the hunter who wasn't always a  hunter in the tribes.(but you'll need to read the book to find out what I mean).
Until eventually they reach a Dun whose chieftain is a man called Dergdian. His son is near blind and Marcus stays there a while to try and save the poor boys life.
Weeks pass and then he is told that in 3 days time there is the feast of the new spears, an initiation for the young men of the tribe into full members. Marcus is permitted to watch part of the ceremony and is astonished when they go to a cave and a Priest brings out a strange totem, It's the eagle of the Ninth Legion.(minus it's wings). It turns out the Ninth legion died protecting it  after many of the legionaries deserted and left barely any to continue their journey through enemy land,they had no chance.

Now Marcus knows where it is all he needs to do is get it and flee back to the wall and Roman occupied territory. Gently prodding for information he finds out the cave is unguarded and makes his plan.
He decides to leave and lets everyone know in advance. Then the night before he leaves Esca steals the eagle and hides it in a lake or loch on the path home.

They leave without a problem but by midday the tribes have caught up with them. Pretending to be confused Marcus allows them to search him and finding no eagle they continue on their search. Then that night Esca goes back and recovers the eagle from it's hiding place and they make a dash for safety.

The relentless speed they have to take to keep ahead of pursers ,even unaware ones, is taking its toll on
Marcus's leg but they dare not stop.
Then they get spotted yet again by another group although this time there is only 3 of them. Marcus and Esca run into a building on a sheer cliff face and ambush the pursers as they enter, 2 are down and tied up. the third enters and others are closing in, Marcus gives the third a choice, lie to the others and send them away then try to recapture them closer to the wall
lose the Eagle forever at the bottom of the ravine that backs onto the building.

They get away and in a frenzied dash on the fresher horses the 3 pursers were riding reach the Roman boundaries to safety.

Returning to his uncles house where the Legate Claudius is visiting they present the eagle to him in a moment of their triumph in returning it before it could rally the tribes against them. But unfortunately it seemed that the Eagle of the ninth returning is not enough to reform it so Marcus achievement is diminished somewhat.
Then they get a letter from the senate and it contains all they need to start living in Britain. And the eagle is somewhere where other Legions will go always.

This book is actually amazing. Yes it's rather slow in places, Yes not everyone will enjoy it, but for me it made such a good change to the books I usually read and I found the storyline quite good. True it could be shortened and some bits could be cut out, true also it's not exactly action packed, but that's the style it's been written in and I think it just enhances the story all the more.
It's a great read and anyone would be a fool not to try it and read it all the way through at least once.

Stick with it and don't stop till the end

Hope you found this review helpful,

The Devonian Book Reviewer

Don't wait to read such a different and good book get it now:

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  1. Hi Devonian. As an Ancient I remember being thrilled by the Eagle of the Ninth about 45 years ago. I would really recommend the rest of Rosemary Sutcliff's work.

    1. Thanks, yes I really should get round to reading more of them,are there any in particular you would recommend?

  2. Thanks for the review, but I'm going to help you out here: "it's" means "it is" and "its" is possessive.

  3. Hi. I read your review and am glad you liked the Eagle. I must say though I enjoy the quiet parts of the book just as much as the action. They are filled with some of the most descriptive and evocative writing I can think of and perfectly capture the frustration of an active person being sidelined by injury.They make the return to action all the more intense and pace the book so perfectly. I would have loved the book to be twice this length and feel the film is a mere shadow of this fantastic work. Another good book you might like is 'The Shining Company'. 'Warrior Scarlet' is my real favourite, well worth reading.


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