[Originally posted on tumblr on 4. October 2012]
I remember promising a post about ‘The Eagle of the Ninth' by Rosemary Sutcliff. I'm not so sure when it comes to writing about this since it says on the back cover that millions of copies have been sold of this book. So I'll just assume that a lot of people actually already read this book and don't need my opinion on it.
On the other hand: I’m a young person who likes to read stuff. Especially books. Also, I don’t know how popular historical fiction is right now. Probably not so much with the fantasy and vampire hype still going on right now. (Or was it werewolves? Zombies? This changes all the time!)
Be warned: Lots of Spoilers ahead!
The thing I really love about this book is that the main character isn’t just ‘some guy from the legions’ - he’s a character who at least tries to understand the people around him. It would be too easy to just say ‘oh well, the Celts were brutes’. That would be too easy. Nope. The author actually made an effort of showing some of their culture and created a main character that even went hunting with a tribesman.
When Marcus, the main character, buys the gladiator Esca he never sees him as his slave. He even gives him the better position as ‘body slave’ which as Esca carrying a spear around and sleeping in Marcus’ room in his own kind-of bed. He even lets Esca go hunting for wolves even though he knew that Esca could just run away into the wilds if he really wanted to. The friendship between these two characters is amazing.
These two paragraphs are full of things that were left out in the movie adaption: Marcus’ try to be on equal terms with the tribes people was completely ignored here, so was him treating Esca as his equal. Also the Britons were shown as wild people, like barbarians without a ‘real’ culture. That was lame. Good for the author that she didn’t live to see that.
Another thing is that Marcus isn’t all the times overly obsessed with bringing back his father’s eagle. After all, the main issue about the lost eagle is actually that it could be dangerous for Rome if its enemies across the Hadrian’s Wall had one of those eagle standards. Secondly, the Ninth Legion (or any legion at all) can’t be re-established without the eagle.
Before Marcus actually heads out he gives Esca his freedom since he thinks that it’s wrong to ask someone who isn’t free to follow him. On their journey Marcus disguises as a healer of sore eyes and isn’t found out until they manage to actually get the eagle. This is less spectacular as in the movie but more logical and more interesting in my opinion.
The only thing I didn’t quite like was that the author suddenly threw in some kind of tiny love story between Marcus and his neighbour Cottia. That sounded like the editor or publisher wanted it to be in there. But well, it was subtle enough to put off as ‘well, every character needs an especially happy ending’. As for Esca: since he helped bringing the eagle back he’s granted the citizenship of Rome.
I think Esca truly had the happiest ending of all of them.
I can only recommend this book.