Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

The Eagle of the Ninth is a young-adult (YA) classic that is just as readable today as it was when it was first published in 1954.  Ms. Sutcliff, author of 40 historical YA novels, once said that her books were for everyone from 9 to 90, and her quality writing holds up to that, over time, and over many re-readings.  The Eagle of the Ninth is the first book in the Aquila family trilogy, set in Ancient Roman Britain.

The Aquila family has a long tradition of military service in the Roman Empire.  That tradition does not alter through the ages, but the Roman Empire does alter, drastically over the centuries, making life exciting for the Aquila family.


Here is the Forward from The Eagle of the Ninth:
Sometime about the year 117 A.D., the Ninth Legion, which was stationed at Eburacum where York now stands, marched north to deal with a rising among the Caledonian tribes, and was never heard of again.

During the excavations at Silchester nearly eighteen hundred years later, there was dug up under the green fields which now cover the pavements of Calleva Atrebatum, a wingless Roman Eagle, a cast of which can be seen to this day in Reading Museum.  Different people have had different ideas as to how it came to b there, but no one knows, just as no one knows what happened to the Ninth Legion after it marched into the northern mists.

It is from these two mysteries, brought together, that I have made the story of The Eagle of the Ninth.

Rosemary Sutcliff.

The Eagle in the Reading, England, Museum

The story of The Eagle of the Ninth is of the son of one of those soldiers who went missing, Marcus Aquila, a centurion with a force in Britain.  He sets off on an adventure that changes the course of his life, and of the lives of his descendents.  He seeks to regain the lost military standard of his father's lost legion.

The Aquila, or Eagle, trilogy includes:
  1. The Eagle of the Ninth
  2. The Silver Branch
  3. The Lantern Bearers
The books are available as individual titles, and as a boxed set.  Here are links to for the individual books, the boxed set, and for a study guide companion to The Eagle of the Ninth.

Here is a quote from The Eagle of the Ninth from when Marcus Aquila sees the lost Roman military standard eagle for the first time:
Another boy stepped out, and another, and another; but Marcus was aware of them only as moving shadows, for his eyes were on the Eagle; the wreak of the Ninth's lost Eagle.  The gilded wreaths and crowns that the Legion had won in the days of its honour were gone from the crimson-bound staff; the furious talons still clutched the crossed thunderbolts, but where the great silver wings should have arched back in savage pride, were only empty socket-holes in the flanks of gilded bronze.

The Eagle of the Ninth was adapted to film in 2011, The Eagle.  I've read the book and seen the film, and I have to say that I enjoyed them both.  The film necessarily ironed out some difficult issues with slavery and the male friendship between the two main characters that did not seem to be an issue when the book was first released.  It remains an exciting adventure tale for young and old, as you can see from the movie's trailer.  It gives away pretty much the whole film, as trailers do these days!

This review is by Candida Martinelli, of Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site, and the author of the cozy-murder-mystery novel AN EXTRA VIRGIN PRESSING MURDER, and the young-adult/adult mystery novel series THE VIOLET STRANGE MYSTERIES the first book of which is VIOLET'S PROBLEM.

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