Rosemary Sutcliff (1920‒92) wrote three of her four great historical novels for children set during the last years of the Roman occupation of Britain – The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers (winner of the Carnegie Medal) – between 1954 and 1959, and Frontier Wolf, the fourth but chronological third, in 1980. The four books are only loosely interconnected, but together they portray the ebbing away of imperial power from Britain. The three final novels in this brilliant sequence – Dawn Wind, Sword Song and The Shield Ring – continue the story, forming a vivid panorama of the mysterious years from the departure of the Roman Legions, through the Dark Ages to the first decades of Norman rule.
Though Sutcliff was writing primarily for children, she never talks down to her readers, and adults too find these novels gripping. Her protagonists are flesh-and-blood people with understandable human dilemmas, and it’s they who drive the plots. All the books are based on historical fact, but it is Sutcliff’s imaginative brilliance that gives reality to a far-off period that left its mark on almost every aspect of British life.
‘Sutcliff was a superb writer with a classicist’s grasp of the era, a poet’s eye for nature and a devilish sense of plot. Fiction this evergreen cannot fail to uplift.’ David Mitchell