Review: “The Eagle of the Ninth” by Rosemary Sutcliff

Thumbs up for The Eagle of the Ninth (aka The Eagle) by Rosemary Sutcliff. Young adult historical fiction.

Ah. It’s hard to write reviews when you read a couple of amazing books in close proximity, because you want to convey how each one moved you without repeating yourself or resorting to meaningless hyperbole. (OMG JUST READ IT ALREADY. Etc.) Well, a few chapters into The Eagle of the Ninth I realized that it was going to be one of my favorite books of all time. In theory, it’s a kids’ book, but apparently kids in 1954, when it was written, were a lot smarter than kids these days – or adults for that matter; there were words I had to look up. No matter. The story is of a young Roman, Marcus Aquila, who takes upon himself the task of rescuing the eagle standard that disappeared with his father’s legion, and finding out what happened to the legion while he’s at it. He is joined by his friend, Esca, a native Briton who has been captured and put into slavery. What did I love about it? Everything. The characters and their relationships, the beautifully poetic prose, the effortless historical detail, the evocative and gorgeously real landscape. I would have sworn Sutcliff spent her childhood roaming the wilds of Scotland on horseback (oh, she writes horses beautifully too: a very rare and laudable trait). You could’ve knocked me over with a feather when I learned that she was confined to a wheelchair for most of her life. The Eagle of the Ninth is a kids’ book, but it makes me happy to be alive so that I can read it. Now watch me while I go out and buy every single other book she’s ever written.

To Marcus that moment was always like being born from one kind of life into another. So must an arrow feel when it leaves the bow! It had been hot and sultry in the old life, but in this one the cool wind flowed against him like water, pressing his thin scarlet tunic into his body, singing past his ears above the soft thunder of the ponies’ flying hooves. He crouched lower, feeling the chariot floor buoyant and vibrating under his wide-set feet, feeling the reins quick with life in his hands, his will flowing out along them to the flying team, and their response flowing back to him, so that they were one. He called to them in the Celtic tongue, urging them on.

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