Friday, February 11, 2011

The Eagle of the Ninth Book Review

Prefacing my forthcoming review of The Eagle tomorrow night, I thought it'd be fitting to do a review on the book, which is very near and dear to my heart.

Yes, The Eagle of the Ninth is one of my favorite books of all time, as I'm sure you guessed. It's about a Roman soldier named Marcus who goes into Caledonia, now Scotland, to try and recover the eagle standard of his father's lost legion, the Ninth, which crossed Hadrian's Wall into Caledonia... and never was heard from again. He is accompanied by his slave Esca Mac Cunoval, whose knowledge and skills prove invaluable.

Pretty soon, Marcus goes from being a centurion to being a civilian to then disguising as a quack eye-doctor and traipsing all across wild, untamed Britain. It's a pretty wild ride, and it's amazing.

Part of why I love this book so much, is because of its extremely personal, authentic feel. It's a very deep book, really. You are plunged straight into Britain and live alongside those in the book the whole way. It's centered around Marcus and Esca, who spend half the book alone in the wilds of Britain. It's almost like a Frodo-Sam relationship, if you're familiar with the Lord of the Rings. It's that same kind of lasting, unbreakable bond between the two that is so gripping about the story.

That is really why I fell in love with this book: two men from completely different worlds, roughing it out in the wilds of cold, cold Britain for the sake of honor. I love it.

I know that two family members of mine were daunted by the opening paragraphs, and actually the whole first chapter, but once you get going, you're in. In fact, while the beginning might feel slow, it picks up the pace quickly; the middle is breathtaking, and the conclusion is satisfying and beautiful, hard-earned and well-deserved.

While the Roman and British gods are mentioned, there isn't any religious feel to the book, and neither does it get icky. Though, when Marcus and Esca get deeper into Britain, they do come across a tribe at the time of the Feast of New Spears, which entails a sort of rite of passage ritual for the young men of the tribe. There is some tribal religious stuff, and Marcus and Esca have to go inside a sacred place in order to retrieve something. *cough* But again, while that sequence is intense, it's not creepy or icky.

I have absolutely no reservations in recommending this book. However, for those don't like blood, there is a battle early on, Marcus has surgery twice, and there is bloodshed later on in the book as well. The surgery is not actually depicted either time, though. It's not gory, but neither is the violence undermined. Rather, it's just there, as a fact.

There are some pretty complicated relationships. For instance, while Marcus is a centurion, he is friends with a British charioteer. However, not more than a chapter later, there's an attack made by the native Brits on the Roman base, and Marcus and the charioteer are on different sides of the battle. But they mutually understand each other, which I found incredibly intriguing.

Another engaging relationship is the one between Marcus and Esca. Marcus rescues Esca from the life of a gladiator and makes him his personal slave, but from the get-go, the relationship is more of a companionship than a master-slave one. Granted, their relationship does fluctuate a little bit throughout, but it's a very deep, interesting one to watch.

Rosemary Sutcliff's writing is like poetry, in some parts more than others. It's just absolutely beautiful and weaves the story together wonderfully. She captured the essence of Britain, and even the interactions between people of differing statuses, relationships, and cultures as if she had lived it. The many nuances and intricacies drew me even deeper into the story, and made it all the more alive.

It's definitely not an action-packed, lightning-fast page turner. But neither is it a dreary, painfully slow one like chapter five of The Hobbit edit: The Fellowship of the Ring, (my bad Bunny Slippers ;). I'm sorry, but that chapter just about killed me, as much as I like Tom Bombadil.... but I digress.

There is a rugged, wild beauty about Britain in this particular time period, and it's charming in an odd, brutal sort of way. I don't even know if that makes sense. But from the living, breathing characters, to the completely real, three-dimensional world they inhabit, not to mention a gripping story, The Eagle of the Ninth is one of the most wonderful reads ever. Don't be surprised if you happen to fall in love with it.


Varon said...

I liked "The Eagle of the Ninth", but not that much. Sutcliff's "The shining Company" is my favorite so far. I especially liked the final cavalry charge in the mist.

Georgianna Penn said...

Oh my word, I love this book! It's probably my favorite Rosemary Sutcliff, although I haven't read that many yet. I can't wait to see the movie!

Jake said...

Ah, yes. Britain. Is it anything like Lawhead's writings situated in ancient Britain? The King Raven Trilogy, the Pendragon Cycle, etc.? If it is....I am running to the library for this book. :| I absolutely love ancient Britain.

Good review, though! I enjoyed it. :)

The Director said...

I haven't read any other books of her yet, but i have the rest of the Roman Britain trilogy :)

I can't wait either! In fact, I'm seeing it tonight! *squeals*

I haven't read any of Lawhead's stuff yet, actually. *is ashamed* However, give it a shot anyway. ;)

Pathfinder said...

I'm going to have to read this now; it sounds like a very good story.

Anonymous said...

Two things: 1. I am really gonna have to find where this book is in my house, I know it's somewhere, and now I really wanna read it! good review Director!
2. I have to admit I'm a tad confused. Did you mean chapter five of The Fellowship of the Ring? Because, assuming I remember correctly, isn't that the chapter that's all about Tom Bombadil?

-"Bunny slippers"

The Director said...

@Bunny Slippers

I stand corrected :P

Yes, indeed! Very good story! :D