Year of a Hundred books – #29 The Eagle of the Ninth

The Eagle of the NinthThe Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff

5/5

Guess why I read this? Go on. Guess. To be fair, I have been meaning to read this for a long time (ever since the film version came out in 2011 in fact, and I’ve had it on my Kindle since Christmas), but it was after reading The Shadowy Horses and not getting a resolution on the search for the legion that made me finally pick up Rosemary Sutcliff’s take on the mystery of the Ninth Legion.

For a children’s story, The Eagle of the Ninth is a really good story. I feel bad using that qualifier, because it implies that most children’s stories are bad, which is blatantly not true. I think what I mean is that there is clearly a lot of research gone into it, and it has a no holds barred depiction of the Roman occupation of Britain that doesn’t shy away from violence where necessary. I think this is best exhibited in the fact that the main character is referred to several times as a follower of Mithras, when most fiction aimed at adults wouldn’t touch on that.

I did know what I was getting with the story, as as I said, I have already seen the film (which is definitely worth watching, despite the interesting linguistic choice of having the Pictish characters speaking Gaelic!), and any cuts made between the two are fairly insubstantial, (aside from the climax, which swaps a covert flight for a full on battle, as per usual!) though it was nice that the whole time I was picturing Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell as the two main characters the whole time I was reading.

I can’t think of anything really to complain about this book, or any detractions to level against it at all, which is in itself, fairly high praise. It’s short, it’s incredibly well written, there’s no reason for you not to read it!

Year of a Hundred books – #28 The Shadowy Horses

The Shadowy HorsesThe Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

3/5

I really wasn’t expecting to like this, but, in spite of myself, I did. My girlfriend’s gran, who knows the author and is even mentioned in passing, leant it to me a couple of summers ago, and it’s sat on my bookshelf ever since. Finally caving in (I needed something a bit lighter after HHhH!), once I got over my initial lack of enthusiasm, it turned out to be quite enjoyable.

The central plot of the book revolves around an archaeological dig in search of the semi-legendary Ninth Legion, part of the Roman army that disappears from the historical record after reports of them marching into the north of Britain). However, rather than being sited somewhere up in the Scottish Highlands, the dig (and the book itself) takes places just outside the town of Eyemouth just north of the border. Mostly this is irrelevant for the story, apart from being a further fuel for the cynicism cast by respected academia on the slightly loopy old man funding the dig, but it does present a problem. The first few chapters of the book felt like the author (who isn’t a local) was shouting “Look at all this local cultural and geographical research I’ve done. Appreciate it!” Once the plot starts to pick up however, this becomes less of a problem, and there are a number of sequences later in the book that are quite good explanations of the local history. I was also a bit disappointed that there was no true resolution to the mystery of the Legion, but I suppose I can’t necessarily complain about that.

The bare bones of the plot are fairly generic. Girl falls in love with boy who is mysterious while trying to ignore her ex, who is inconveniently around. Mysterious old man with family issues. Vaguely supernatural young child with a heart of gold and family issues. The old woman full of wonderful local knowledge but with a secret and a heart condition. In spite of this, somehow the combination turns out to be surprisingly compelling. You do begin to feel interested in the characters, even though you’ve read them in tens of different combinations already.

Does the interest come from the fact that it’s based around the timeless mystery of the Lost Legion? Or from the fact it’s set in a place I know fairly well? Maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good, or well written story.