Day 202: The Lantern Bearers

Cover for The Lantern BearersIf you are historical fiction lover and are not familiar with Rosemary Sutcliff, I recommend that you try one of her books. She is best known for her novels about the Roman occupation of Britain and the interaction between the Romans and the various British peoples. Although many of her books are classified as children’s literature, the ones I have read are just as suitable for adults. My review today is of a Sutcliff book I read most recently, which unfortunately is the third book of her acclaimed Eagle of the Ninth trilogy, The Lantern Bearers. Although she wrote a series of eight books about the Aquila family, three are usually grouped together and sometimes can be purchased as one book. The other two are The Eagle of the Ninth and The Silver Branch.

The Lantern Bearers is about the desertion of Britain by the Romans and its subsequent inundation by marauding Saxons. Aquila is a soldier with the last battalion on Britain. He is recalled to his regiment to withdraw from Britain and leave his father and sister behind in the home they have occupied for generations.

Aquila finds that his heart is with Britain, so he deserts his regiment and returns home. However, the day after he arrives, his home is attacked by the Saxons, his father is killed, and he and his sister are enslaved.

Without giving too much away, I will say that the story eventually focuses on the rise of the British ruler Ambrosius and his adopted son Artos, from whom we get the stories of King Arthur.

I think these books are fascinating, although of the three in the trilogy, my favorite is The Eagle of the Ninth (which, by the way, was recently made into a very good movie that no one apparently went to see; I recommend it). If I had any criticism of this book, which is carefully researched, well written, and full of action, I would say that sometimes it seems as if Sutcliff thinks the Roman occupation of Britain was completely positive. I doubt if the Britains felt that way when they were conquered. However, even though her heroes are often Romans, her ideas are more nuanced than that.

If you decide to read this trilogy, I suggest you start with The Eagle of the Ninth, although the books are far enough separated in time to be read as stand-alones.

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