Up until very recently I was unaware that Eagle of the Ninth, one of my all-time favorite Sutcliff books had a sequel. This is not the first time something like this has happened to me, and it's very demoralizing. Anyway, I made haste and got out The Silver Branch to read immediately. And then it sat in my To Be Read pile for ages until I made myself read it because I had to return it. Well, made myself read it isn't quite the right phrase, because I enjoyed every minute of it (except when a certain character died, which was very traumatic--two certain characters, I suppose).
I've read enough Sutcliffs by now that I can pick up the thread. Rutupiae light, for example, is only briefly mentioned in this book, but anyone who's read The Lantern Bearers (LOVE, LOVE, LOVE) will know how important it is there. Similarly, there's the familiar old flawed stone with the dolphin carved in it. This book is a bit different from most of Sutcliff's though, in that it arguably has two main characters.
Justin (Tiberius Lucius Justinianus) has just been posted to Roman Britain as a surgeon to the Eagles who are supporting Carausius, the self-styled Emperor of Britain. He's excited because his family was originally from Britain. On his first day there he falls in with a young centurion about his age who turns out to be a cousin of his (Flauvius). And, as it further turns out, they are both descendants of Marcus Flavius Aquila, of Eagle of the Ninth fame (YAY!).
This being a Sutcliff novel, naturally they run into quite a bit of trouble. While I like Flauvius, Justin became the real hero of the novel for me. I think that's what Sutcliff intended (most of it is told primarily from his point of view), and it worked.
This is highly recommended for almost all ages (her prose is occasionally difficult). No bad content, except for a bit of violence.
"And above him towered the ramparts of Rutupiae: a grey prow of ramparts raw with newness, from the midst of which sprang the beacon-crested tower of the Light." (Okay, so I wrote that down solely for the Lantern Bearers reference. I love that book. I can't help it.)
"[Justin] was a friendly soul himself, but he was always gratefully surprised at any sign of friendliness from other people, and with his gratitude, his liking went out, hesitant but warm, to the red-headed centurion [Flauvius]."
"Here we are on the run, with the hunt up behind us and the world falling into shards around our ears and you bring your instrument-case away with you."
"The young Centurion, who had been completely still throughout, said very softly, as though to himself, 'Greater love hath no man--' and Justin thought it sounded as though he were quoting someone else."