The Silver Branch, by Rosemary Sutcliff
Back to the Lost Legion again. Except this time, although the book is a sequel to the Eagle of the Ninth, it takes place 200 years later, during a series of rebellions by the Romano-Britons against the empire.
The Silver Branch definitely isn’t as good as its prequel. It’s a little convoluted and hard to follow in places, but on the whole it’s still a really good children’s story, that has all the strengths I mentioned in my previous review.
Like Eagle, the Silver Branch is a story of family honour and loyalty to the eternal Rome, though the form this vision takes has changed drastically in the past two centuries. No longer are the army inherently strong and noble (though the beginnings of this were seen at the end of Eagle) Nor is the authority of the Empire still ordered and perfect. The empire has declined, and Britain is going down with it, and that is the world The Silver Branch takes place in.
Part of the reason I didn’t like it as much as the first book is that I knew nothing of the history, and since the preface states that most of what is told is based in truth, I was as much concerned with working out the history as I was with the story itself. Which is never a good way to read a book. In any case, despite my glowing recommendation for The Eagle of the Ninth, I’ll temper it back a bit for the sequel. If you happen to buy the combined copy of the first three books in the series, then there’s no reason not to read the second (I’ll maybe get back to you on the third), but I wouldn’t go so far as to say you should hunt it out.
The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff
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!