The Eagle of the Ninth – Rosemary Sutcliff

The Eagle of the Ninth, otherwise known as The Sparrow of the Sixth.

This is a very well known book (but perhaps not as much by its second title). Many people will not require an introduction. For me, it was a book I intended to read for quite awhile and I was glad when I finally did.

Rosemary Sutcliff knows her Roman Britain. She is something of an authority on it. Here, she imagines a story around a true event, the disappearance of the Ninth Roman Legion. A Roman, Marcus, and his slave, Esca, together undertake to retrieve the eagle, the legion standard, from deep within hostile territory. I like this book for its history and adventure – the stealth and final race across the countryside – but also for the relationship between master and slave that develops throughout the book. Although Marcus and Esca are in many ways natural enemies, they are also men in need of one another.

I read the book as an adult. The intended audience is older children, teens. Although it’s probably out of vogue now (which is too bad because it would probably suit a lot of boys), I’m sure its been studied by many, many school children, as my copy would suggest.  It belonged to Carol Lovell of 9C. (Thank you, Carol, if you are reading.) It’s got study notes and questions in the back, and graffiti on the cover, like this helpful advice: “For best results, Open book before reading.”

I picked this book up because I wanted to own a copy and it looked in need of a home. I must I have a thing for waifs and strays of the literary variety (I notice this has already becoming a recurring theme in this blog) and I certainly have a soft spot for old school texts. They been through some many hands. Maybe the book had a lasting impact on the readers or maybe it was just an opportunity to deface school property and pass a message on to the next person, but it feels like a connection to the past. I know the kids who were sitting in those desks.

 

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