This was the first book by Sutcliff I read. I’m so glad it was. If it had been Mark of the Horse Lord or Bonnie Dundee, I’m not sure I could have gone on. This is the story of Aquila, who deserts his legion as they leave Britain for the last time. It has a marvellous bittersweet quality to it, a sense of things ending and things beginning. As with so many of Sutcliff’s stories, the main character loses the life he thought he (and they are almost always he) was going to have, but discovers another one. For Aquila, who had dreamed of military glory, the choice to stay behind seems to wreck that. In the end, though, he finds his place, fighting with another group of Romano-Britons against the Saxon invaders.
I haven’t read it very recently, but I distinctly remember, as with so many of her books, the intensely wonderful description of place. Rutupiae, Snowdon–they are all vividly brought to life. Moreover, Sutcliff makes the time incredibly real. I don’t know if any of it is very accurate historically, but if you want excellent historical fiction, written without any pretentiousness or attempts to make the language sound old-fashioned, Sutcliff is a great place to start.
This book is also part of a larger series, starting with The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, and Frontier Wolf. It also connects with Sutcliff’s Arthurian series, which I have not read.