Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Eagle's Prey by Simon Scarrow (Book 5)

Author: Simon Scarrow
ISBN # 0755301161
Publisher: Headline
1st Published: 2004
468 pages

It is over a year since the Roman army landed on the shores of Britain. The savage warriors of the barbarian leader Caratacus continue to torment the legions. Emperor Claudius needs a victory to make his position safe. As the Romans gather on the eve of the battle they are confident that a final, decisive, blow will surely annihilate the British leader. But the battle does not follow the expected course and the most ruthless army in the known world prepares to inflict dreadful punishment on the very men who could bring the long campaign in Britain to a triumphant conclusion.

I don’t know what to say. I honestly don’t! The entire series so far has been wonderful but this, the fifth in the series, surpasses all expectations. Scarrow’s style is, at one & the same time, raw & visceral, yet ordered & clean – perfect for the subject matter, reflecting both the barbarism & the precision of war.

This episode had me in fear for the lives of our leads, more-so than ever before. I finally realised that Scarrow could conceivably kill off the heroes; leaving the other characters he has developed alongside them to carry the story, & the burden of their roles within it, alone. I empathised both with the defending Britons, fighting for their freedom in their own land, & the Romans, following their orders to make Britain a province of Rome & win a victory for their Emperor, as well as honour for themselves.

I was shocked by the portrayal of the Romans as barbaric in contrast to the empathy of the Britons. The decimation* of an entire cohort because of one man’s incompetence was such a terrifying ordeal that I could barely believe this was an actual practice. The description had me almost in tears to think of it.

The Eagle’s Prey has everything you could want & more from an historical fiction – action, adventure, glory & defeat; it ticks every box with aplomb & deserves the very highest of accolades.

Rating: 10

* One man in ten would be chosen, by lottery, to be beaten to death by his comrades as punishment for a major incompetence & to set an example that would not be forgotten. The entire cohort (or even the entire legion) would then bear the shame of decimation until they could be redeemed by an act of sheer courage beyond that usually expected. Basically, nothing short of a miracle would wipe this blight from their records.


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