サトクリフが多くの作品において扱ったテーマ -少年が困難や挫折を乗り越えて、大人になってゆく- を、この作品も追求している。彼女の作品が、歴史世界を舞台にしているにもかかわらず、現代の我々の心にも強く訴えかける理由の一つは、我々の誰もが人生において直面する問題を扱っているという点であろう。しかし、それだけではない。彼女の物語の主人公は、夢をそのまま叶えたりはしない。どんなにあがいても解決できない（おそらく永遠に）問題や、取り返しの付かない出来事と向かい合った主人公が、それでも人生をひたむきに生き、人生を肯定する力を自らの中に育んでゆくのである。夢は破れるのである。安易に夢の実現を語らないサトクリフの醒めた視線が、彼女の作品に強力なリアリティを与えている。このリアリティこそが、我々の心を揺り動かす秘密である。
Tortured by harsh rumors that the lost Ninth Legion turned feral and betrayed the Roman principles of Trust and Honor, young Marcus is grimly determined to prove the gossip false and restore the Honor of his father's old legion. No one knows the fate of the men who marched off into the mists of what will be known as Scotland in subsequent centuries. But without the actual Eagle which repreents that legion, there can be no Honor--more sacred to Romans than life itself. Thus Marcus vows to recover the lost eagle for Rome, so that the men of the Ninth may rest easy and that the Painted People may not use it as a psychological weapon against Rome.
This novel is quite long for YA status, but is enjoyable to read. Sutcliff presents a mystery which spans the dim prehistory of Britain and historically documented Latin times. The plot is interesting, while the style captures the flavor and language of the Anglo-Roman era. The reader will pick up some Roman history and clues about their lifestyle just by reading for pleasure. The book is truly worthwhile, though I recommend the stark chiller, SUN HORSE, MOON HORSE, as an introduction to the tribal life. Very good story in setting that is both literary and historically accurate. Based on archaeological findings.
The plot is tight, avoiding unnecessary haste (which helps to give a sense of reality, as well), but not degenerating into a slough of wasted pages devoted to trivialities. Sutcliff's keen sense of location is a delightful aspect of the story--- one feels that she was intimately acquainted with Great Britain's wilds, and loved them for what they are and were: solemn, unfathomable, and full of mystery.
An obvious scholar of Celtic and Roman traditions and culture, Sutcliff manages to subtly impart a great deal of information without lapsing into "textbookishness"--- that alone is no mean feat! Readers will find that there horizons have been broadened after diving into her books.
Sadly, most of her best fiction is out of print, but here are some titles of her most enjoyable stories-you might want to check the libraries:
Mark of the Horse Lord
The Eagle of the Ninth
The Silver Branch
The Lantern Bearers
In the prolouge of this novel Sutcliff tells her inspiration for this novel - the mysterious disappearence of the Ninth Legion who marched north to deal with the Caledonian tribes in 117 AD and were never heard of again, and the remains of a wingless Roman Eagle that was uncovered in modern times at an excavation at Silchester. The Eagles of Roman Legions were of uptmost importance to the soldiers within them, as the eagle symbolised their strength, their union and Rome itself. In the wrong hands it could spell disgrace or loss of moral should it ever be marched against Rome. For this reason Romans went to great lengths to protect the Eagle, even at the cost of their lives, and often an 'eagle-bearer' would march with the troops in order to protect and care for the precious token.
"The hunting ground is a wide one, and who knows into what strange covers the hunt may led us."
So says Centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila and his freed slave Esca at the start of their journey. Marcus's father was the leader of the Ninth Legion, and Marcus takes up the chance to find out exactly what did happen to him and the lost Ninth Legion that he had led, by crossing the safety of the Hadrian Wall and following the rumours of a Celtic tribe said to hold a strange Roman artefact of war. Wounded in battle and so stripped of his dream to become a First Cohort like his father, Marcus applies himself fully to restoring the honour of his father's Legion and prevent the Eagle from becoming a weapon of propaganda.
The two cross into dangerous territory, first disguised as a medicene man and his spear-bearer, and then as fugitives as they hurry back towards the Wall. Although the long first chapters that relay Marcus's first command and leg injury are rather long and probably unnessarsary (the quest doesn't actually begins until chapter eleven), those that hang in there will be rewarded with a nail-biting theft of the Eagle and a riveting final chase to safety.
Sutcliff creates a sympathetic character in Marcus, readers of this day and age will nod in approval at his treatment of his 'slave' Esca, but he has a touch of arrogance that will make scholars of Roman History smile. Backing up this protagonist is the fascinating character of Esca, who is often identified with the wild wolf that Marcus raises as a tame animal, Marcus's jovial uncle Aquila, and the frustrated 'girl-next-door' Cottia. All are interesting and genuine people, and all their relationships are handled well - there is no sappy romance, easy friendships or mushy uncle/nephew bond here; it is, to put it simply: real.
Like all her books, Sutcliff's writing is infused with potent imagery (the olive wood bird, the Celtic shield and 'Roman' dagger, and the Eagle itself) and poetic language that is blissful to read. Sutcliff had a gift in provoking images of landscape and imagery, and again she never distances the reader from the characters even when teaching them something about history - I was especially interested by the Feast of Spears in chapter fourteen. She juggles melancoly and despair perfectly with hope and renewal, and anyone who does make it through those first few chapters (which unfortunatly really do bring the rating down) might find themselves enjoying this unique story.