Have you ever sat in a theatre after a movie was over, stunned and unable to get up because the movie was so great? Doesn't happen often, does it? Well, books as great as The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff don't come along that often either. And just like a great movie, this book left me sitting there going, "Wow."The whole purpose of this blog is to tell you about terrific books, so I'm going to tell you guys right now that his is one terrific book!
The story is based on two actual historic events. In 177 A. D., the Ninth Legion of the Roman Army in Britain marched into what is now Scotland to put down a rebellion. They disappeared without a trace. Eighteen hundred years later, a Roman eagle, the symbol of a legion, was found buried in the fields of southern England. Were the two incidents related? Maybe and maybe not, but Ms. Sutcliff used them to make her story.
Young Marcus Aquilus has come to England to take command of the Roman fort of Esca Dumnoniorum. He's haunted by the fact that his father was commander of the Ninth Legion and that their eagle was lost. He'd love to know what happened but he he must attend to his duties first. Then the local tribes attack the fort and Marcus is caught up in the middle of it. Things don't turn out for him as he expected, but later he hears that the eagle of the Ninth might have been taken by the northern tribes. He's afraid that the eagle might be used to rally the tribes against the Romans. Marcus and his friend Esca (a former slave) disguise themselves and go north to find the eagle. Right into the land where the Ninth Legion disappeared. Could they possibly find it? And if they do, how could they hope to get back alive with all the northern tribes hunting them? Whew, this is one thrilling story!! The excitement gets very intense. I found myself gripping the book, wondering what would happen to Marcus and Esca. You will too! Well, in all fairness, I do have to let you know that the really exciting stuff happens in the second half of the book. There's a great battle in chapter III, but, after that, things take a while to build up--which is appropriate, considering what happened to Marcus in the battle. But when this book gets good--man, what a payoff!!
So don't waste any time--strap on your armor and march down to your nearest library or bookstore to get this one!!
OK--this book was so great that I'd like to say some more about it. You know how grownups are; we love to talk and talk. If you just wanted to find out about a good read, then you can stop here. But if you want to read more, go right ahead.
First, Rosemary Sutcliff is one of the best writers I've come across in a long time. She really makes you see and feel what's happening in the story. I could almost shiver with Marcus and Esca in the cold, wet mountains of the north. I could see that chariot with blades on the wheels bearing down on Marcus!
I like historical fiction a lot. It gives you the same things you can get from good fantasy. Not only do you get good stories, but you also get to enter worlds that are different from our own. Ms. Sutcliff does a masterful job with this book in getting you to be part of the worlds of the Romans and the northern tribes.
Rosemary Sutcliff didn't talk down to you in this book. She didn't "dumb down" this one because its written for kids (even if they're high school and middle-school kids). She used some words that may be unfamiliar to you and doesn't and stop to explain them. It's not all the time, of course, but you might to keep a dictionary at hand. I found myself writing down words so I could look them up later. (I didn't want to interrupt this terrific story, so I wrote words down) Do you know what a "cresset" is? Or a "rath"? Or that a "boss" can be something more than a person who tells you what to do at work?
I read this book because our brother bloggers on the SMS Guys Read blog got it to read before The Eagle, the new movie based on the book, came out. They had a great discussion about the book on their blog. Some guys liked it and some didn't. I'd like to know what you guys think.
Besides, look at how these guys react on camera. Now that's how GUYS talk about books!!
Speaking of discussions, The Eagle of the Ninth would be great for book clubs. There's a lot to talk about. You could go into the story but you could go even deeper. You could talk about friendship, like the one that develops between Marcus and Esca. Can two people from two such different cultures be friends? What could overcome those differences? You could even talk about how the wolf, Cub, symbolizes that friendship. (don't know what I mean? Read the book and find out!) There's also the whole conflict of Light vs. Darkness, as in the time when Esca and Marcus are in that cave!! Shiver!! It reminds me of the chapter in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in which the people are trapped on the island of darkness. Also, this could lead to all kinds of chances to investigate what life was like in Roman Britain. Any teachers out there paying attention? Or any homeschooling parents?
PS--since the new movie is out, the library has ordered more copies and they should be here soon. Check for them is all the others are out.