Review Blog

Mar 08 2010

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

cover image

Puffin, 2004 (50th anniversary edition. ISBN 9780140308907.
Highly recommended. With the release of the film of this book in September 2010, there will be enough hype for kids to want to reread this classic tale. New editions have been released; in the last ten years, along with the 50th anniversary edition in 2004, and I expect another will be released as the film opens. Already some citizens of the USA are seeing the film as criticism of their exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the publicity is being stepped up. So I retrieved my husband's year 8 copy from the back of the bookcase and began to read. And I was overwhelmed with glee as I reread one of my favourite authors from my teens, Rosemary Sutcliff. Her work is undergoing a revival and no wonder, her novels are exciting, involving, with characters that are believable, and issues that remain with us to this day.
The Eagle of the Ninth is the story of a young centurion, Marcus Aquila, proudly leading his cohort. It is his first tour of Britain, and his first command, and he is very aware of the might of the Roman army and all it does in bringing civilized society to the savages. He suffers a major injury in an heroic battle against the Painted People, having then to find another occupation. While recuperating at his uncle's house, he attends a gladiatorial fight and seeing something defiant and brave in the young Briton pitched against the gladiator with a net and trident, asks to buy him as his personal slave.
But Marcus cannot forget that his father was the First Cohort of the Ninth, the famed legion that was lost and never heard of again, losing their eagle, the pride of the corps. So he takes on the role of an oculist, and he and Esca, head north, the place of the painted savages, to search for the lost 4,000 and their eagle. Adventures come thick and fast as they roams the villages and settlements of the north, curing them of eye disease and gathering information. They finally meet a soldier of the Ninth, who escaped the carnage and settled with a northern village, he is able to tell Marcus what happened to the legion and more importantly, his father. Along the way, Marcus learns more about the people he has been sent to conquer and about himself and where his future lies.
Fran Knight

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