Thursday, September 22, 2005

Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow (Book 1)

Author: Simon Scarrow
ISBN # 0755330684
434 pages

Under the Eagle follows the fate & fortunes of Macro, a battle-hardened Centurion of 14 years service, & Cato, a 17-year-old freedman, until recently a Palace slave, made Optio (Macro’s 2nd in command) due to the patronage of the Emperor himself.

Set amid the 43AD attempt at invading Britain, this first novel in a series of 6 to date, is filled with political ambition, intrigue & espionage. Will the secret mission to retrieve a prize left sunken in the misty moors of Britain 100 years before during a failed attempt to conquer Britain be successful? And will the life of a legionary be the making of young Cato, or will the military utterly destroy him?

Likened to the works of Bernard Cornwell, this is not the kind of book I’d usually choose to read, but I snapped it up for a song (a bargain at 99p!) on a special offer in Ottaker’s & couldn’t resist the thought of an extra book on the cheap. I’ve had absolutely no interest in military dramas, historical or otherwise, so I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly I was drawn into the narrative & before long I was completely absorbed.

It is a well-written piece & although I’m no historian, I can completely believe that all historical references are authentic. The battle scenes were never too lengthy or wordy, & were filled with all the excitement you’d expect watching a movie of this genre. It is descriptive without being too sickeningly gory & brings the harsh realities of the battlefield sharply into focus.

I really cared about what happened to these characters – I found myself worrying about them as they marched off into the fray, desperately fighting the temptation to skip ahead & see how they’d fared: Were they hurt? Were they even still alive?

The sub-plot of the ambition of men towards political careers through triumph in the military threw the stark physicality of battle into relief, highlighting the necessity of friends in high places, bribery & subterfuge. The intelligence of Scarrow made this a wonderfully rich thread throughout the tale.

I have had my eyes opened wide & can see now that I shall have to get hold of the rest of the series & follow the action & adventure of the men serving under the 2nd legion’s banner of the eagle.

Rating: 8/10


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