Synopsis: 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’s 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.
An attack on the fort leaves Marcus with several injuries, including the permanent leg one. Swords, arrows and chariots are weapons in the battle and are briefly described. Marcus goes to watch the games with his uncle, which include a gladiator fight and a fight with wild animals; Marcus calls for mercy, saving the life of the young gladiator. Mentions of battles in the past, where the conquered is killed or taken into slavery- the Ninth Legion was one such group, also having been hunted down and slaughtered. Esca and Marcus get in a skirmish where they knock the enemy unconscious.
Mention of Uncle Aquilis’ loves, a song is sung about kissing girls. Cottia explains that when her father died, her mother married a hunter who had loved her always. A soldier remarks that the girls are well enough.
When he’s wounded, Marcus is drugged to sleep. Wine is drunk throughout, a queen was said to poison herself, and a doctor is said to be drunk, most of the time.
The book delves into the relationship between Marcus and Esca, master and slave. They develop a relationship more akin to friendship, and yet the boundaries marked by society make it hard.
Mention of ‘he cursed’. Exclamations of by the gods, or by Mithras.
Mentions and prayers to Roman gods; an altar is set up and sacrifices offered. Marcus’ personal god is Mithras, the god of light etc. Mentions of druid priests, holy men and holy places. Esca has his own British gods, mention of Spanish gods and the Egyptian god Ra. Marcus and Esca take back the Eagle, which had been placed in a temple and worshipped as a god- they also pretend that Esca is sick, from demons inside of him. Talismans are worn, mentions of omens.
Overall feel: An interesting, intriguing book, about the lives of a wounded Roman Centurion, seeking honour and action, and an ex-gladiator, turned slave, seeking to live. It’s a tale that delves into that time period, exploiting their superstitions and beliefs, and the effects the Romans had in the ancient world. Marcus and Esca challenge not only the definition of a slave/master relationship but also the challenges two boys could overcome.
This is the first time I add on a personal note and I have an explanation; I just go the idea a few seconds ago.
This book by Rosemary Sutcliff is amazing- rich in language and storytelling, rich in setting and character building, it’s an absolute must-read for all historical fiction lovers.
It stays with you long after you read it- especially if you decide to read all three books in the trilogy. I believe Mrs Sutcliff has set the standard quite high when it comes to historical fiction.