Rosemary Sutcliff’s four great Roman novels, The Eagle of the Ninth (1954), The Silver Branch (1957), Frontier Wolf (1980) and The Lantern Bearers (winner of the 1959 Carnegie Medal) tell the story of the Roman occupation of Britain through the fortunes of several generations of the Aquila family, from the Empire’s glory days to its final withdrawal, weakened by increasing pressure from Saxon raiders and internal power struggles at home.
Sutcliff was writing primarily for children, but she never talks down to her readers, and adults too find these novels impossible to put down. All of them are based on historical fact but it’s Sutcliff’s imaginative brilliance that makes you smell the burning cherry log warming old Uncle Aquila’s cosy study, feel the tension in the air at the Saturnalia Games, and shiver in the icy winds howling round the bleak frontier forts along Hadrian’s Wall. Her protagonists, young Romans who have come to love their adopted country and strive to keep its values alive, are no cardboard cut-outs but flesh-and-blood people with understandable weaknesses and beset by recognizable human dilemmas, and it is they who drive the plots.
As well as being brilliant reads, together these novels make sense of a far-off period that left its mark on almost every aspect of British life. They have been difficult to find for some time and we’re delighted to be reissuing them with their original illustrations.
The Eagle of the Ninth (Published September 2019)
As Marcus the young centurion arrives in Britain to take up his first command, he is haunted by the memory of his father and the 6,000 men of the Ninth Hispana Legion, who twelve years earlier had marched north of Hadrian’s Wall to quell an uprising and were never seen again. Seriously wounded soon after in an attack by hostile tribesmen, invalided out of the Roman Army and wondering what to do with his life, Marcus determines to make the hazardous journey north in a bid to discover the fate of the Ninth Legion, and in particular of the Roman eagle, the Legion’s standard and a possible rallying point for the northern tribes in their war against Rome. Sutcliff’s most famous book is a gripping adventure and a touching coming-of-age story, based on the real disappearance of the Ninth Legion around the year AD 117.
The Silver Branch (Published September 2019)
Roman influence in Britain is waning. The Empire is increasingly threatened by hostile tribes along its borders and divided by political struggles at home. Two distant cousins who have met by chance in Britain – Justin, a shy, newly qualified army surgeon and Flavius, a young centurion – are caught up in the power struggles between Carausius, the charismatic Emperor of Britain, his cruel and ruthless treasurer, and the Emperor in Rome. Disgraced after their attempt to warn Carausius about a plot against him fails, the two go underground, rallying support for the legitimate Emperor and finally taking refuge at the farm of their formidable Great Aunt Honoria. Here they make an astonishing discovery which affects their future and links directly back to their ancestor Marcus and the disappearance of the Ninth Legion.
Frontier Wolf (Published September 2020)
After a disastrous misjudgement which cost the lives of half his men, Alexios, another young centurion and member of the Aquila family, is sent to take charge of a bleak Roman outpost on Hadrian’s Wall and the savage bunch of men who defend it, the Frontier Wolves of the title. Dealing with this notorious legion is literally a matter of life and death for Alexios, for a commander who alienates them is unlikely to survive. Frontier Wolf tells the story of how this flawed but likeable hero grows in stature, gradually gaining his legion’s respect and the co-operation of the surrounding tribes, and defending Rome as the threat from the north grows.
The Lantern Bearers (Published September 2020)
The shadow of the approaching Dark Ages hangs over this last of the Roman novels. Rome’s legacy is finally decaying, the regular legions have been withdrawn, and Saxon raiding parties are invading the British countryside. As commander of a cavalry troop, young Aquila has been ordered to leave, but he has grown to love Britain and stays on, only to see his father’s farm torched by the Saxons, his father and the household servants murdered and his sister Flavia abducted. Aquila himself is captured and spends years as slave to a Saxon clan, but as the darkness gathers over Britain, it only strengthens his determination to avenge his family and keep Roman values alive.
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