Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

Genre: YA historical fiction
Pages: 210 (paperback)
Published: (first) 1954; republished 2010 by Oxford Press
Recommended for: history lovers, history lovers

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 has 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. 

My Take:  

Yep, the Eagle of the Ninth is the bestselling young adult book which inspired the new Roman-era movie The Eagle. I've been wanting to see the movie for a few weeks now-- but since my people are much more inclined to see a comedy (blah) than an action-y historical film, I settled for reading the book the movie was inspired by.  And I'm so glad I did!  The movie might be another Gladiator, and still I don't think it could possibly live up to this amazing book, the first in a trilogy by Rosemary Sutcliff.

Marcus Aquila is a young Centurion, the newly-appointed commander of a Roman army legion.  He arrives in Roman-occupied Britain eager to move on from the sleepy northern towns where his troops are stationed and find some action and glory, but finds action all too soon when the 'barbarian' Brits unexpectedly rebel.  Marcus ends up barely twenty and wounded for life, his leg having been severely injured in the battle against the Brits.  He goes to live with his reclusive uncle in another Roman-occupied town, where Marcus surprises himself by saving the life of a young British slave, Esca, who was doomed to die in a bloody Arena battle between gladiators.  Marcus buys Esca as a slave in his uncle's house, and the two become friends despite everything. Twenty years ago, Marcus's father marched into northern Britain-- the Ninth Legion-- and mysteriously vanished, along with every last one of his troops and the golden eagle standard which the Roman army treasured above all others.  Confused and uncertain about what his future could possibly hold now that he is injured and discharged from the military, Marcus sets off on a quest which some tell him is suicidal: he travels north, disguised as a traveling healer and with only Esca to help him face the suspicious and sometimes brutal tribesmen of Caledonia-- northern Britain, whose savage beauty and wild landscape even the great Roman Empire could never completely conquer.   

This is one of those rare books which I will read, and immediately know I will reread again and again.  The Eagle of the Ninth is something of a classic (it was first published in 1954), so it's really cool to see it and its two sequels packaged as YA, this first book with a new (and admittedly Hunger Games-esque) cover.  The way Rosemary Sutcliff writes history is just freaking amazing-- I love how a reader can totally, perfectly grasp the dogma of the Roman Empire and the sharp contrasts between them and Roman-Britain, even if they've never before read another book about Rome.  The plot is by no means fast-paced-- but it's not plodding, either, and the story-world keeps a reader more than interested.  The characters are really the gems of The Eagle of the Ninth-- I loved both Marcus and Esca.  They're both so self-depleting and really everything you would look for in a couple of heroes, and they're so real that a reader can feel their pain and triumphs, and ultimately it's pretty much impossible not to fall in love with them.  I particularly loved their friendship, since the whole master-slave relationship isn't exactly one which people normally think of as blossoming into a long and beautiful friendship.

And the ending-- every once in a while, it's so fantastic to be read a book and love the happy ending, and not have to worry over the cliffhanger for about a year like most of our modern YA books have us do!  I recommend this one for fellow history buffs and lovers, though not those who thrive on constant action/romance and those with short attention spans.  (Which I totally get, having the attention span of a squirrel when it comes to most TV shows. ;)  I cannot wait to get my hands on the next two books in this trilogy, and of course to finally get that movie ticket to see The Eagle!!   

Cover: 4/5 
Premise: 5/5 
Characters: 5/5 
Plot: 5/5 
Overall Rating: 5/5


P!nky said...

I'll go with ya Sis! I bet the weichs would enjoy it 2.

Liz said...

Yay, my elderly church friend has finaly given me a good book. The last one, WATERSHIP DOWN, was so boring that I had to look up the synopsis on to make it seem that I at least finnished it. Which is sad, because I pride myself in almost always finnishing a book.

Kat said...

@Liz-- Watership Down is one of my favorite-est, most rabbit-y books... tho I gotta admit I wasn't big on the idea of a 500 page book about MIGRATING RABBITS at first. (My step-grandfather recommended it to me, actually.) But Eagle of the Ninth is probably more awesome-- don't let the slow beginning get you down! :)

Susan said...

What an inspiring review! I have this book on my shelf but it's been low on my list. Now I want to read it soon!

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